TIFF 2015: Anomalisa

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When motivational speaker Michael Stone (David Thewlis) declares “it’s boring, everyone is boring,” he is referring to the bland life he has found himself living. He is searching for something unique, that thing that rises above the curse of conformity that everyone around him seems to be inflicted with. While Michael is drowning in a sea of mediocrity, the same cannot be said for the film the character exists in. Spawned from the brilliant mind of writer Charlie Kaufman, and co-directed by Kaufman and Duke Johnson, Anomalisa is unlike anything else audiences will see this year. The bittersweet film exudes creativity and emotion in a way that is simply stunning.

The bulk of the film takes place in Cincinnati where Michael is set to deliver a speech, based on his bestselling book, about the importance of exceptional customer service. Glad to be free of his wife and son, whom he can no longer stand, for a few days, Michael decides to call up an old flame that he abruptly ran out on eleven years earlier. When the reunion does not go as smoothly as he had hoped, the depressed author turns his attention to Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman who just happens to be in town for the conference he is speaking at. Instantly drawn to the shy woman, Michael begins to wonder if Lisa could possibly hold the key to the happiness he has been seeking for so long.

There is magical sense of discovery that washes over the audience when watching Anomalisa. Utilizing stop-motion animation, Kaufman and Johnson manage to evoke plenty of raw emotion throughout the course of the film. At its core the film is a love story, but it never plays out in the traditional way the viewer would expect. Similar to most budding relationships, Michael and Lisa’s slow ascent to love is filled with plenty of awkwardness and insecurity. When the couple decide to become intimate, easily the one most memorable and painfully honest love scenes ever captured in film, they are truly laying their souls bare on every level.

Anomalisa is a film about human connection, not only the desperate search for it, but the ways it can impact a person’s life. Michael puts so much selfish emphasis on Lisa’s ability to change his life for the better that he neglects to even consider the profound effect, for better or worse, he is having on her. Kaufman has shown in the past that he has an uncanny ability to make even the most whimsical film resonate deeply with the viewer. This is evident in Anomalisa as well. The film’s abundance of creativity, and at times eccentricities, never overshadow the sense of longing that engulf Michael and Lisa. In fact, it only enhances the beauty of the film even further.

Whether Kaufman and Johnson are toying with the ways Michael tiptoes towards the brink of madness, the scene involving the hotel manager is particularly inspired, or using replacement animation techniques to enhance the hypnotic character designs, Anomalisa is full of oddities to study and devour. Similar to the notion of love itself, the film demands that the audience jump in blindly in order to see the true beauty that is waiting inside. Innovative, engaging, romantic and bittersweet all at the same time, Anomalisa is nothing short of a masterpiece. It is a film that film lovers will be praising and discussing for years to come.