Review: Anomalisa 

Anomalisa's writer Charlie Kaufman transforms an old radio show with his twisted style

4 stars

According to Wikipedia, the Fregoli delusion is a rare disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that different people are in fact the same person who changes appearance or is in disguise.

There are three actors in Anomalisa: David Thewlis plays Michael Stone, a weary author of a well-received book on customer service called “How May I Help You Help Them?”, Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Lisa, an insecure woman used to being in the background of life, and Tom Noonan plays every other role in the movie.

Charlie Kaufman wrote Anomalisa. He's the guy that wrote Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Human Nature, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and his directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York. Kaufman co-directs Amonalisa with Duke Johnson, who has directed stop-motion animated episodes of the TV series Morel Orel and Mary Shelley's Frankenhole.

Anomalisa was originally a radio play that Kaufman wrote under the pseudonym Franco Fregoli.

If you're familiar with the works of Charlie Kaufman, you probably read the above information and either placed the movie on you Must See list, or made a mental note to avoid it at all costs. Kaufman is a highly imaginative fellow who likes to play kickball inside viewers' heads. He is capable of taking you to amazing places and presenting dizzying ideas. Sometimes his ideas aren't as striking as he thinks they are and his trippy story constructs are fatiguing. To enjoy this film's rewards you'll need to be patient.

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Amonalisa is peopled by puppets. Don't know why, exactly. As I noted, Kaufman wrote the story as a radio play to be presented onstage by a tiny cast. A few years later he was approached about making it into a movie. Somewhere along the line the puppet thing came up. A Kickstarter campaign got the project rolling (over 1,000 people are thanked in the closing credits) and the play found a new life.

The puppets are fascinating creations, highly detailed. The faces are divided into sections, making it easier for animators to swipe pieces in and out. Kaufman and Johnson opt not to cover up the lines between the sections.

If you associate puppets with children's entertainment, think again. These are grown-up puppets. When Michael Stone steps out of the shower in his tasteful Cincinnati hotel room, you'll see his penis bobbing about. When there are arguments, you'll hear angry puppets screaming “Fuck!” over and over.

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The first part of the film follows Michael as he arrives in town and suffers from all the people being nice to him. I understood that he was tired of traveling and chatting with strangers, I got that he was worn out and depressed and lonely. Didn't matter – he got on my nerves and I grew impatient with his attitude.

Then he meets Lisa and the movie becomes more. Married Michael, having already attempted to hook up with an old acquaintance, invites her back to his room. Lisa, in town with a friend just to hear him speak, can't believe he is interested in her. She is extremely wary. He is extremely horny, and watching him carefully navigating his way past her insecurities and into her pants while she tries to adjust to her improbable situation is terribly human. Think about that, the puppet sex scene is the most human part of the film. Nice going, Charlie.

Other things happen, most notably a dream sequence that represents the dimensions and patterns of a dream better than most attempts I've seen. As for the Fregoli delusion, I read it in this context as a way to emphasize the self-absorbed state of the depressed, aging Mr. Stone.

I also noted that when we eventually hear a bit of Michael's speech, his celebrated advice was painfully obvious stuff. In other words, when it comes to the behavior of the Fregoli, the calming tones and friendly overtures of service workers that Michael finds so bothersome, it turns out he wrote the book on 'em.


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