It’s this setting where the bullk of Charlie Kaufman’s (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) Anomalisa takes place. It’s a story about love and loneliness — both in solitude and in a crowd — told through the stop-motion animation of highly detailed life-like puppets. The film follows a day in the life of Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a man who at times is literally falling apart.
Watching Michael and the other puppets of the miniature world of Anomalisa move and interact so like the life-sized counterparts they perfectly mimic is reason enough to see Anomalisa. But the real puppet master is Kaufman, whose writing (paired with outstanding performances from the vocal cast) makes Anomalisa more than just an animated novelty or technical accomplishment.
We see the puppets' seams, but the real, uncomfortable beauty of Anomalisa is how clearly it sees our own seams. It takes us deep through the cracks into the dark and unseen mechanics that pull our own strings.
Besides the cerebral deep dive you'd expect from Kaufman, Anomalisa packs a surprising number of laughs per minute, many of the biggest at the expense of the city of Cincinnati.
If you’re even remotely familiar with what Anomalisa is, you’ve probably read plenty of praising pull quotes about why you should see it, but I’ll caution up front that the less you know about Anomalisa going in the better. Your spoiler barometer might be calibrated differently than my own, but still: The thing that’s not quite right in the world of Anomalisa doesn’t make itself immediately apparent (unless some jerk critic spoiled it for you ahead of time), but as it gradually does, it’s a wonderful Kaufman-esque moment that I'd have hated having revealed to me beforehand. (After you’ve seen the movie, give the name of the hotel Michael stays at a Google for insight into Michael’s mind.)
In the way that different types of art seem to be able to poke and prod at our emotions in different ways, there’s something about trading the real for the surreal with puppets that makes Anomalisa perhaps better suited to examine the human condition than flesh-and-blood thespians.
Anomalisa is an imaginative new voice that sings out from the droning rabble-rabble of the crowd of forgettable clones we typically meet from our their theater seat. It’s a small story, but one that will have a big impact on the viewer long after the credits roll.