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Movie Review: “Anomalisa”

Jan 142016
 By , January 14, 2016
Movie Review: "Anomalisa"


“Anomalisa” – a film review by Gary Chew

If you’re a Franz Kafka or Henry Miller fan and have some curiosity about Sigmund Freud, Anomalisa is a movie you have to see. If you liked Eraserhead, find yourself watching other David Lynch films, enraptured by Being John Malkovich or stay totally focused throughout all Jim Jarmusch movies, you probably have Anomalisa hiding somewhere deep within your DNA.

You should know that Anomalisa is a stop-motion, adult, animated, romantic, comedy-drama. (Please underline the word “adult” in this description.) It’s also been nominated for an Oscar for being best animated film of 2015.

anomalisaDavid Thewlis voices the main character called Michael Stone. Jennifer Jason Leigh (“Hateful 8”) is the voice of Lisa and Tom Noonan speaks for all other characters. That’s because Michael sees and hears all other characters, besides Lisa, as having the same face and voice. Thus, so do you. I was a little at sea with the voicing until I realized all characters with that voice have the same face, as well, whether male or female.

Michael is a well-known, self-help author who is terribly detached from everyone in the movie, except for Lisa, whom he meets early in the second act. Michael flies from Los Angeles … where he, his wife and son live … to Cincinnati. The meeting at which Michael will give a lecture in the third act is about how people in retail can improve at assisting their customers. (Feel free to use the term “mundane.”) I’m reminded of Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise, in which the lead characters take a vacation, in the wintertime, in Cleveland before going on to Florida. How’s that for excitement?

Michael calls up an old girl friend from his hotel room in Cincinnati. He hits on her after she agrees to join him for drinks in the hotel bar. She storms out. On the way back to his room, Michael meets two women in the hallway. One of them is Lisa. After some chit-chat, Michael suggests that only Lisa come to his room for a drink and more conversation. After awkward moments, their actions evolve into much more than just another beverage and talking to each other … if you know what I mean.

anomalisaThis scene, plus a swift glance to an adjoining building from out the window as he first enters his room, are why one shouldn’t take young children to Anomalisa. In his room with Lisa, both are shown without a stitch on, and Michael seemingly being OK with presenting himself in a full frontal manner to the camera. Must I remind you that these characters are actually dolls who look human, and are mobilized through that stop-motion technique? It was difficult for me to not laugh out loud for extended periods.

“Bizarre” might be another word to further define this photo play directed by Charlie Kaufman. But the story does have a heart-wrenching quality to it other than being merely strange. What occurs is quite common to daily lives lived most anywhere. Michael is bored and unstable. Lisa acts and is plebian. Ingredients such as these suggest boredom. I wasn’t bored. I was amused a lot, and often merely shook my head at the low-key, off-key qualities of Anomlisa.

Coen brothers’ music guy Carter Burwell did the score. He matches his musical ideas well to what goes on … and, I guess, what doesn’t go on in this movie that probably isn’t the perfect film for a first date.

Lisa’s favorite word is “anomaly.” That’s how she sees herself. So, Anomalisa, in which all that occurs is surely unusual, unexpected or different from what normally happens in most motion pictures.

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Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.

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