TIFF ’15: ANOMALISA

Anomalisa is the pet name Michael Stone, a traveling lecturer (voiced by David Thewlis) gives a woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) after a brief sexual encounter that he initiates. He calls her this after she calls herself an anomaly, as well as many misanthropic, belittling things. She is uncomfortable in calling herself an anomaly, but only sometimes. She reads the dictionary when she reads books with large vocabularies, thinks her friends are prettier than her, and doesn’t ever believe anyone will love her. Michael, on the other hand, has spent the night trying to find any woman he can to satisfy his sexual sadness.

This is past the halfway point of Charlie Kaufman’s latest film about a solipsistic male with literary success passing through life without appreciation. It is also the first time I’ve realized what a paltry writer this most critically lauded man is. In the form of an animated film, however, the purpose of his work becomes more scant and it is clear that he most successfully communicates in quirks. When you hear two characters speaking candidly, you’ll see that it’s always one who is more vulnerable and the other who is incapable of empathy. It is as if he is always writing in front of a mirror.

Much of the wry humor from this film comes in the form of dejected people moving through life in the same patterns they always have. A cab driver will recommend the city’s zoo time and time again; the bag boy at the hotel will be as mechanic as they all are, but because he is a stop motion figure, it’s refreshingly funny. These are little moments that work, but only because of the implemented gimmick. If this were a film starring David Thewlis, it would nonetheless be acclaimed, but I personally take less from an animated film expressing existential ideas, unless the atmosphere or scope is equally mature (When The Wind Blows), but here, the animation is precisely monotonous to a fault – it would have worked better in the hands of Spike Jonze.

I could write more about this movie, but I honestly hated it. This is from a fan of all of Charlie Kaufman’s past work, but now, I’m starting to wonder if any representation of women in his movies make any sense. Upon reflection, they are loose caricatures meant for their male counterpart to deal with – and most of the time, they lack the depth of intelligence. Even in Adaptation., Susan, the author Meryl Streep plays, is an aloof mind hopped up on drugs compared to even the more asinine Kaufman persona. Just take these things into consideration when characters are speaking and you think the writing is so honest and true because honestly, I believe that this writer only knows how to examine himself and depreciate others in his own self-depreciation.

The conversation when Jennifer Jason Leigh’s voice turns into a Tom Noonan is most telling. You don’t like people? You don’t like yourself? Fine. But explain that more than having the words she’s saying “Oh we can go to the zoo” seem like the worst piece of shit he’s ever heard. It isn’t. If he really wanted any joy in life, he might have thought that was okay, but if he can’t appreciate anything, then why did this movie exist? Why did Lisa feel any happiness despite knowing the worthlessness of their encounter? That makes no fucking sense, Charlie. From me to you.

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