At the Movies Blog
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Most of America was thrilled by the release of a new Star Wars movie. Most critics are thrilled by the release of a new Tarantino or Coen brothers film. Fans of original and brilliant screenplays always welcome a new project from Charlie Kaufman. He’s won an Oscar for his screenplay of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (my daughters favorite movie, and one of my favorites from the year it came out).
Kaufman got Oscar nominations for two other films — Adaptation, (one of my sisters favorite movies) and Being John Malkovich. Two of his other movies were interesting — Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Synecdoche, New York. The latter being called “The best movie of the decade” by Roger Ebert. So it’s baffling to think that Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson needed to use a Kickstarter campaign to get this film financed.
The movie is done in stop-motion animation with puppets. It’s a muppet mid-life crises film, with the best puppet sex scene since Team America.
The story is about a miserable, narcissistic author and lecturer named Michael Stone (David Thewlis). His best-seller “How May I Help You Help Them” also brings him some money with speaking engagements. So on the flight to Cincinnati, he has to deal with the annoying passenger sitting next to him. In the cab, it’s a nosy driver that takes banal small talk to a new level. It’s these small touches of humor that Kaufman does so brilliantly. Something about listening to a cabbie go on about the zoo or the famous chili…is just mesmerizing. You’re so glad it’s not you that’s stuck in that cab, yet you’re so glad you’re witnessing this conversation.
We get some of the things you’ve seen before — a phone call for room service that’s annoying, or spying on somebody in another room that’s looking at porn. Yet one of the reasons a movie like Lost in Translation didn’t work as well — they had slow-paced and clichéd scenes that didn’t pay off. For example, they had a scene where Bill Murray, who has clearly checked out of life, calls his wife. She excitedly tells him about the various tiles and wants him to pick a color. He looks at samples she has sent him and couldn’t care less.
In Anomalisa, it’s a phone call Stone makes to his wife and son. He’d much rather be relaxing in his room drinking wine, or calling an old girlfriend. Instead he listens as his wife tries to call her son downstairs. He has to listen as the son pesters him for a toy (and if you were given a hundred guesses, you wouldn’t guess what toy he brings back for the little tyke).
You may be confused as to why all the voices of the other characters are done by the same person (Tom Noonan), but that will eventually make sense. His tone is a bit menacing, but seeing as how Stone treats everyone, it’s to be expected (when we first hear that voice, yelling at him in a break-up letter…it will break up the audience with fits of laughter).
The one voice that’s different is Lisa, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh. She was interesting in The Hateful Eight, and is perfect in this. Her awkward sex scene reminded me of her first sex scene in her first movie — Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Lisa is there to see Stone’s speech and she’s obviously star-struck. And since we’ve seen Stone strike out with an old flame, we have no doubt he’ll do better with her. Yet we cringe watching him manipulate her and it may feel uncomfortable to some, as he comes off like a predator and such a vile person. It’s also fascinating to watch this seduction.
Part of the problem lies with the surrealism and metaphors. There were times I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and it didn’t become any clearer by the end of the movie. For example, the bottom of his face fell off a few times. What the hell was that about?
Some might find the pacing a bit slow, but it worked. There were so many things to enjoy; watching a guy try to get into a hotel shower that’s either freezing cold or scalding hot. Another scene had Stone listening to Lisa sadly and beautifully sing Cyndi Lauper (the best use of a Lauper song in a movie since Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion). And just as we’re feeling that melancholy vibe that pervades every Kaufman film — we laugh hysterically as Stone tries to tell her how beautiful her singing voice is, only to be interrupted by the last part of the song.
By the end of the film, you’re a bit sad that the movie didn’t seem to go anywhere. You wanted it to end in a profound way, but’s an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half.
Just be warned: this isn’t an animated film for the kids. It’s rated R, and would be rated X if these were real people and not puppets.
I’m giving it 3 stars out of 5.

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