The world can always do with a new Charlie Kaufman offering. This animated jewel will do nicely. Read on…
WE’VE missed Charlie Kaufman. Seven years is a long time to be without one of the most singular writers in modern cinema but that is what we’ve endured since his directorial debut Synecdoche, New York bombed at the box office. His films are hilarious, surrealist, metafictional and often contain veiled, postmodern versions of himself (ie fumbling menopausal males). In the case of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and the brilliant Adaptation (2003), the results can make for life-affirming cinema.
Despite being depicted in co-director ’s distinct stop-motion animation, Anomalisa is as “Kaufman” as it gets. A big screen adaptation of his 2005 play, it features a glum middle-ager with grey hair and grey life (a customer service guru called Michael). It has an existential and romantic crisis forced to the surface by way of said despondent fugue. Michael (voiced by the reedy whine of David Thewlis) is in Cincinnati to give a talk at a conference. Everyone in his orbit sounds exactly the same to Michael (all voiced by Tom Noonan), from his wife and son to the hotel bellboy.
After a romantic grapple with Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a frumpy conference-goer staying on his hotel floor, he falls hard, convinced that she is the remedy to his many midlife-crisis ills. As he does, shards of Noonan start to creep in to Lisa’s voice, hinting that only Michael can fix Michael.
There’s much to take from Anomalisa that belies its soft-eyed dolls and dry wit, not least its meticulous mix of the whacky with hard, uncompromising realism. Even Thewlis’s bleating feels like “textbook Kaufman”, which is saying something. It’s great to have him back.
First published in the Sunday Independent