I should just learn to trust Charlie Kaufman. I used to. I used to let him take me blindly into the oddest corners of his imagination. Then “Synecdoche, New York” happened, a film that I believe to be the definitive example of cinematic masturbation. As I was trapped in that theater I thought ‘never again,’ never again would I give a filmmaker my heart.
So yes, I came into ANOMILISA with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. Stop motion animation? It seemed like a joke out of Being John Malkovich.
And for the first 40 minutes or so, it seemed like I was right. I could find no reason why it was stop motion, it felt like a gimmick. I also had the nagging suspicion that almost every voice in the movie was being done by the same actor? I mean, I know the film was partially paid for through Crowdfunding, but come on, what kind of cost saving measure is this. I can think of hundreds of actors who would work for free to be in a Charlie Kaufman film.
But then it all made sense, and in one glorious turn, Kaufman proved he knows what the hell he is doing. ANOMILISA finds Michael Stone on a business trip to Cincinnati – he has been brought out to speak about Customer Service, he is regarded as a bit of a rock star in his field. But like most Charlie Kaufman leads, Stone is horribly dissatisfied with his life. The world around him is mundane and uninspiring and even worse, everyone seems to so look and sound the same. Even his wife. He tries to reconnect with an old flame, but that backfires. Then he hears a voice in the hall, a magical voice, a voice that doesn’t sound like everyone else. This is Lisa, and for one night he recaptures his lust for life through this woman.
Of course you had all other roles being played by the same actor, and of course it had to be animated to do that.
As the film progresses, and gets weirder in that way that only Charlie Kaufman can (Stone dreams there is a conspiracy of these same voiced and faced people who say he can pick anyone, just not Lisa) the creative choice that at first felt gimmicky feels completely necessary. The story behind the foundation of the film sheds even more light. It was a voice play meant for three voices and the audience just imagined the world where everyone sounds like Tom Noonan to themselves (Kaufman brought the same voice actors back for the film). And although there are lots of things added by the visual element, the film is at its core about the sound of the human voice.
ANOMILISA has moments of perfect beauty and then finishes in that same sort of disappointed malaise that so much of life does, and so Kaufman’s film really touches the soul. By taking us somewhere completely foreign and unimaginable, he teaches us about our own lives and circumstances. It’s good to have him back.