Mysterious, charming, and absolutely unforgettable, Anomalisa is a truly haunting movie experience. While you're watching it, you probably won't know exactly what to think. After all, this is a very bizarre film- an R-rated drama told entirely with lifelike puppets (the work of stop-motion master and co-director Duke Johnson). But Charlie Kaufman's latest exploration of the human condition will linger in your mind. It finds a place in your subconscious and hangs there, eating away as you begin to discover and reflect on all of the perfect nuances that complete this terrific film. Minimalist in scope, but epic and provocative in theme, Kaufman's existential crisis of a movie is stunningly profound and thoroughly satisfying, coming in at a fleeting 90 minutes and shaking the audience to their core. Some movies will thrust their greatness on you immediately. Anomalisa is the antithesis of that- it's the instant classic that you don't expect.
This doesn't sound too exciting right? If you read that and went "Well, that sounds pretty boring," I encourage you to give it a chance. Anomalisa doesn't seem like much at first. It's set mostly in one location- a nondescript Cincinnati hotel- and deals with a character going through a rather subtle existential crisis. There are very few flashy effects, the puppet animation is initially a little creepy, and there's no complex story with twists and turns. But if you're able to get past the surface of Anomalisa, you'll find an absolute gem of a film that is wise, captivating and completely engrossing. It's deeply profound, completely hilarious, and 100% original- simply put, it's something that you don't see too much in today's Hollywood.
There's also some truly terrific technical wizardry in this film, highlighted by the clever voice work and what I believe to be the most effective suspension of disbelief in recent movie history. The puppets in Anomalisa are incredibly life-like. Their facial expressions feel accurate, they're completely anatomically correct, and they move in a mostly human fashion. But they still look bizarre and I thought that might be a struggle for me while watching this film. What I found was a film that felt completely real. I didn't ever feel like I was watching a group of puppets- I felt like I was watching human characters interact. For me, that's one of the strongest accomplishments of this film. That's a feat that not even Inside Out was able to accomplish. The guise of puppetry vanishes and it penetrates right to the heart of the story.
There's one more thing that must be discussed in regards to this film. It has been one of the hot button topics surrounding Anomalisa since it first premiered in Venice, and that is the lengthy and incredibly realistic puppet sex scene that works as the centerpiece of the film. Now, if you say the words "puppet sex" to someone, the first movie that will probably come to mind is Trey Parker and Matt Stone's classic comedy Team America: World Police, which features a graphically over the top scene of animated intercourse. Anomalisa is the complete opposite of that. I was stunned by what I felt while this scene played out- I wasn't uncomfortable and it certainly wasn't weird. Instead, I felt like I was watching a genuine scene of love. There's lots of sex in movies. But there's very little true romantic passion and awkwardness. That's one of the sheer pleasures of Anomalisa- it feels so truly real.
But as with all good things, Anomalisa comes to an end. And that conclusion will leave some people completely unsatisfied. I can easily see some people being frustrated and angered by this film. I urge those people to look closer. Anomalisa is not pessimistic or angry or shut off from the world. This movie is a warning- a call to arms if you will. By telling the tragic story of Michael Stone, Anomalisa is advocating the experience of life. Don't just keep doing the same things. Live in the now, do something new, have fun. This is the message of this little masterpiece of a movie and I think that it will continue to resonate for a very, very long time.
THE FINAL GRADE: A (9.2/10)