Movie review: 'Anomalisa's' puppets bring misery to life
In “Anomalisa,” Charlie Kaufman uses stop-motion animated puppets to illustrate the anguish and melancholy of the human condition.
In other words, it’s typical Charlie Kaufman, only this time with puppets.
For Kaufman, the “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” screenwriter who fell down a rabbit hole of his own inscrutability with 2008’s “Synedoche, New York,” “Anomalisa” is a bounce back, though it’s ultimately hindered by the same crushingly bleak worldview that colors all of his work.
His story centers on Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis), an author visiting Cincinnati to deliver a speech on customer service. For Kaufman, Cincinnati is the perfect nondescript, middle-tier Midwestern city to set his woeful tale.
Stone has sad eyes and a dejected face, and everyone he sees has the same expressionless glance and monotone voice (all voices other than the leads are done by Tom Noonan). He arrives at his hotel and meets Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), who cuts through his fog of misery. They share a connection, and the resulting sex scene captures the awkwardness of human copulation more accurately than most movie love scenes.
But the honeymoon period doesn’t last long, not for Stone and not for Kaufman. The writer-director (he shares directing credit with Duke Johnson) loses focus in his third act, and his points could have been handled more assuredly in an eight-minute short, rather than a full-length motion picture.
Kaufman’s script stings with uncomfortable truths, but doesn’t do much else. Kaufman’s medium has changed but his message is still the same.
Rated R: for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language, all involving puppets
Running time: 90 minutes