Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Synecdoche, New York) and Duke Johnson direct possibly the most achingly human animated film ever made, a proudly unconventional puppet romance that defies characterisation in almost every conceivable way.
Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a respected author of customer service books who flies into town to attend a conference, and finds his terminally miserable life seemingly upended by the appearance of Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a fan of his with low self-esteem who presents to him a way out of his moribund rut.
Truly adult animated movies are extremely rare, free completely of juvenilia or any of the clever innuendo and implication that prevent young kids from asking their parents awkward questions once the movie over. Anomalisa, meanwhile, immerses itself without restraint in the sad, lonely existence of one man, and the potential beacon of light he encounters one night.
Unarguably Kaufman and Johnson’s most memorable flourish here is the decision to have all but Michael and Lisa be voiced by legendary character actor Tom Noonan, emphasising the disconnect Michael feels with everyone else, all of whom hilariously also possess the same generic puppet face. What initially seems like a needless conceit or a possible political statement about gender fluidity is ultimately something much simpler, less loaded and more satisfying; everyone and everything in Michael’s life is a boring, tiresome baseline to him, except of course for Lisa.
The directing duo also do a splendid job squeezing every last possible morsel of expression out of these gorgeously-designed puppets, ensuring that the movie loses nothing than had it instead unfolded simply as a live-action film. This is especially important with the movie’s approach to full-frontal nudity and sex, all of which is handled matter-of-factly and essentially the antithesis of, say, Team America’s OTT puppet romp hijinks.
It may be too downcast and contemplative for many tastes, though there’s little doubt that Kaufman fans will bite down hard, and just as well, because for those prepared to get on-board, there are few flesh-and-blood films from 2015 composed with so much relatable beauty.
Anomalisa is on limited release in US cinemas now and in UK cinemas March 11th