Directors: Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman
Cast: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan
Running Time: 89 minutes
Release Date: March 11th
For many people, a Pixar movie winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture is bittersweet. Their films are no doubt bright, emotional thrill rides, and from time to time they bring a sequence that will never leave you- I’m looking at you, Up — but there’s little argument against the fact that it’s a lot more Cars 2 and Monsters University nowadays than it is Toy Story or Finding Nemo. Last year, Inside Out was a delightful, touching and insightful journey through a little girl’s inner turmoil. But should we reward Pixar for simply doing what they used to do every year?
In the words of Anomalisa producer and creator of Community Dan Harmon, if we scare them, they’ll be better. Anomalisa, funnily enough, is why this year, that Best Animated Picture Oscar is particularly tough to swallow. While twenty years ago, Toy Story taught us that a cartoon could be filled with emotional pathos and a clear moral, Inside Out really just did the same thing later on. Anomalisa takes that ball and runs with it, as only a Charlie Kauffman film can.
Michael Stone, voiced by excellent as ever David Thewlis, is a stop motion self-help author with deep emotional problems. We meet him on a soulless flight to Cincinnati, followed by the most inane of taxi chatter as he is dropped to the Fregoli Hotel (whose name has special significance if you do your research) and slowly learn that to him the whole world, voiced by Tom Noonan, blends together into a monotone, Mona Lisa-faced blur of mundanity. His son and wife, the bellhop and taximan, all look and sound the same to Michael Stone.
The extent of Stone’s inner trouble is shown in the hotel, as we meet a man desperately in search of an answer to the hopeless situation in which he finds himself. From contacting a heartbroken ex-lover to being enchanted with an antique Japanese sex toy, it is dark and sometimes hard to watch. The character is deeply flawed, but when he meets and forms a connection with Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is in town to watch his conference, and an anomaly whose voice he can hear and whose face he can see, the two form a bond that is intensely endearing. There is puppet sex. Vivid and sensual, but in such a way that is so wonderfully human that it’s hard to think of a more perfectly intimate moment in cinema this year.
Of course, however, as mentioned above, it is a Charlie Kauffman picture, and so it won’t necessarily be for everyone. Our protagonist is still extremely chemically imbalanced, and there are some uncomfortable sequences as we watch Michael Stone’s skewed view of the world sabotage him. It’s tough to bear witness to his cries for help, especially as it begins to look as if he won’t get any.
This is what Toy Story started. It’s an honest, clear look into the human condition and how lonely it can be, and despite the fact that it’s done with puppets with fuzzy faces whose hinges you can still see, it’s hard to imagine a better way to tell this story. You might not necessarily like Anomalisa on first watch, but this is a film that could stay with you for a very long time, in a fantastically haunting sort of way.