Saturday, September 23, 2017

OVP: Anomalisa (2015)

Film: Anomalisa (2015)
Stars: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
Director: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Animated Feature)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

I went to this film recently with a friend, and afterwards he said "well, that's Charlie Kaufman."  After almost a decade of watching Kaufman's intensely personal and bizarre visions for the screen start to pop up at random times on Top 10 lists and art house calendars, I had to agree.  Anomalisa is decidedly Charlie Kaufman, which for me comes with some mixed baggage.  I personally like Kaufman, but have only once loved him (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and frequently find his films a bit of a chore to watch, as if I need to be forming an opinion while watching them.  This is fine (I like intellectual cinema and I enjoy being asked to think), but they occasionally pull me away from the movie, which practically mandates a second viewing (and again, the only time I left wanting to instantly revisit the movie was Eternal Sunshine, a film I have rewatched many times since).  Anomalisa is not, unfortunately, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but like some of Kaufman's other pictures, I did leave it challenged intellectually and wondering about what I had just seen.  That may not make it a great movie, but it definitely makes it something worth discussing.

(Spoilers Ahead) The premise of Anomalisa is initially a bit of a conundrum for us, as we encounter a world where Michael (Thewlis) is a self-help guru giving a seminar on a recent book he has written, and that it's 2005.  What we don't understand initially, or at least for the first half hour or so it seems, is why everyone that isn't Michael is voiced by the same man (Tom Noonan)-men, women, children, advertisements-everyone looks and sounds the exact same, much like a crash test dummy in a series of different wigs and costumes.  About thirty minutes in we hear a voice (Jennifer Jason Leigh, whose voice, especially when she's flirting, sounds weirdly like Cameron Diaz which is something I had never once put together until just now and which is odd considering both are former collaborators with Kaufman) that is distinct, just like Michael's, and it's a fan of his named Lisa.  As the film progresses, Michael falls madly in love with Lisa, a woman with relatively low self-esteem and otherwise seemingly mundane, but who stands out in a way compared to all of the automatons around her.  We even get a wonderful moment about halfway through the film were Jennifer Jason Leigh sings acca pella Cyndi Lauper's classic "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."

However, this is a Charlie Kaufman film, so it doesn't end there.  After a night of passionate love-making (and yes, if you see this film you're going to see marionettes have messy, explicit sex with each other), we don't just stay there.  After a bizarre dream where Michael is encountered by a hotel manager who claims he's in love with him (as is every other person that is not Lisa), Michael starts to see that Lisa is human, with foibles and flaws that don't match the illusion that he has created, and slowly but steadily she becomes exactly like every other person in his world, same voice and face.  The film ends with him returning to a wife and child he can't stand because of their uniformity, while Lisa, in a bit of a twist, turns out to not only be individual and fine with what happened, but once we see the film from someone other than Michael's eyes, we see that her friend (previously an exact replica like everyone else) is also unique-looking, proving that this world of sameness is all in Michael's head.

It's hard to tell whether or not this is a progressive movie or not, as Michael is clearly based on the final moments part of a psychotic breakdown or a complete chauvinist/narcissist, as he sees all people as exactly the same, and in particular sees only women who are "unique enough" as good enough for his world.  I think it's human nature for us to latch onto our protagonists, and see the world through their eyes, but here we are clearly not meant to as Michael is a jerk.  The man sees himself as so wholly unique that no one else, save Lisa and a woman he had an affair with over a decade ago, are worthy of his adoration, and even then it's only for a fleeting moment.  It's still a bit of naval-gazing, and I wouldn't doubt there's a Jezebel article denouncing Michael and perhaps even Kaufman a little for making such a film, particularly after a long pantheon of films where the male protagonist has to frame his life with the use of a woman, but the script is still interesting and the ultimate payoff, where Lisa gets something out of the affair and Michael is left with nothing but a faint memory and no real lesson for himself, is a bit of a counter-balance.  I guess I liked it, and can appreciate it, but don't love it and don't put it at the top of the Kaufman pantheon by any means.

Those are my thoughts on Anomalisa-how about you?  Do you think the film deserved its Oscar nomination, and more importantly, deserved such a position in the "directed by Charlie Kaufman" movie gallery?  What are your thoughts on this year's Best Animated Feature race, which seems to be Inside Out and then a bunch of movies the general populace hasn't seen?  Share your thoughts below!

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