It should have seemed, to any person very first listening, the most doomed concept in function film history. Properly, to virtually any individual. Kickstarter subscribers had been clearly an exception they made the project possible. Laptop Rockefellers? Reckless net chancers? Yes, they might co-fund a forlornly seriocomical puppet-animation movie primarily based on an original play by a renowned/infamous Hollywood oddball. The film’s unlikely hero is a middle-aged self-support author possessing a one particular-night stand in a dowdily pricey Cincinnati hotel, on the eve of a conference. The film’s title is even significantly less promising: no a single, on a 1st sighting, will recognize it — Anomalisa.
Picture the pitch, if there had been one particular. “We’ll be producing the film with computer-printed puppets. Most of the female characters are dubbed with male voices.” (We understand why at some point.) “And the themes are despair, loneliness and Fregoli syndrome.” That is the condition in which you think absolutely everyone else is the exact same person in different guises. “Fregoli” is also the name offered to the hotel.
But yes — by now you are ahead of me — the film is superb, haunting, indelible, outstanding. Co-directed by Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter of Getting John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Thoughts (and author of that supply stage/radio play), with animator Duke Johnson, it is an inspired miniature with unstrung (in practically every sense) marionettes. It’s about madness, male menopause and the redemptive possibilities of really like. And it’s set in a globe hilariously precise and horrific: a hotel that ticks all the jet-age alienation boxes and resembles Hell remade for a Thunderbirds convention.
Why is Anomalisa so funny-tragic? Simply because it catches our off-guard selves. Voiced with an anxiousness-edged northern English burr by David Thewlis, “Michael Stone” is an Everyperson every person can determine with, at least in — say — the mutely screaming hours of early morning insomnia or the quiet but ineluctable panic of advancing age. Comfy sufficient, prosperous enough, acclaimed enough, Michael is walking towards a void in his life as large as a pothole.
Kaufman and Johnson’s puppets are quaint yet spooky, rudimentary but lifelike. In early scenes they arrive as if on a conveyor belt of crafted satirical idiosyncrasy: the yappy taxi driver, the reception clerk on social autopilot, the deluxe catatonia of the cocktail lounge. But then Michael meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a kooky brunette as needy as he. Cue the one-evening romance. Cue the melody of mated hearts.
It is absurdly touching, this dark/light night of the soul, up to and including the puppet sex scene that — with apologies (or none) to Group America — goes beyond the zany-incongruous to find a tender, delicate, picayune poignancy. The final scenes restore us to a world exactly where nightmare reigns, not least in a sinisterly staffed hotel basement that out-Kafkas Kafka. But our hero may now have located the important to coping. It’s the skeleton essential enjoy often supplies: the a single displaying us that every person we had been afraid of just before is only, like us, a lost soul hoping to locate himself, just when or briefly, just before time’s final tolling.
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