Anomalisa's puppetry is more powerful than most live action human dramas

 
James Luxford
David Thewlis in puppet form

Anomalisa (PG) | Dirs. Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman

★★★★

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Charlie Kaufman.

Having spent much of the 2000s writing films that became instant classics (Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind) he capped off the decade with his directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, which divided critics, but to many cemented him as a cinematic genius.

His much delayed follow up is Anomalisa, which arrives in cinemas with both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations to its name.

A mixture of traditional and modern (a stop motion animation partly funded by a Kickstarter campaign), it tells the story of Michael (voiced by David Thewlis), a customer service guru who arrives at a hotel to speak at a convention.

Michael is tired, depressed, and increasingly finding it hard to relate to people, to the point where everyone looks and sounds the same.

The night before the talk, however, he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who looks and sounds different to everyone else, leading Michael to believe she may be his salvation.

It explores familiar Kaufman themes of human connection and sense of self with real visual flair (all the more remarkable given it started life as a “sound play”).

The anaemic, softly lit hotel that Michael stays in becomes both a maze and a prison as Michael’s mind begins to unravel.

Michael’s quiet desperation is illustrated beautifully, both in the animation and Thewlis’ weary, exasperated vocal performance.

Following his lonely journey in the first act makes his meeting with Lisa all the more affecting, the result being more powerful than most live action dramas.

There’s also a darkly funny streak running through it, mainly through Michael’s clumsy interactions with those around him (all voiced by Tom Noonan) and typified in the love scene.

Yes, that’s right, there is puppet sex. But this is no Team America; like much of the film it’s both uncomfortable and oddly endearing.

Anomalisa is a surreal, engrossing, heart-wrenching classic from a man who delivers what we never knew we wanted in a way we never expected. Who'd have thought there was so much humanity in puppets?

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