Make no mistake: this is an R-rated animated feature – for adults! In writer/director Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York,” he raised provocative philosophical questions which he now explores existentially, utilizing puppets in stop-motion animation. Read on…
First seen on an airplane en route to Cincinnati, middle-aged Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is the acutely depressed author of a successful customer-service self-help book called “How May I Help You Help Them?”
Preparing to deliver a motivational speech the next day, Michael checks into the posh Fregoli Hotel, dutifully calls his wife and son in Los Angeles, and tries to re-ignite an old flame for a drink.
Significantly, everyone Michael speaks with – the flight attendant, taxi driver, desk clerk, bellhop, hotel manager and family members – looks and sounds the same (all voiced by Tom Noonan), often robotically repeating banal phrases.
Wretchedly lonely and disillusioned, he encounters an insecure, impressionable young admirer, Lisa Hesselman (voiced Jennifer Jason Leigh), a naïve Akron bakery-sales rep who – after some apple mojitos – eagerly responds to his overtures in her own distinctive voice, warbling Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
“You’re an anomaly,” he tells her after they share a long, slow, explicit sex scene. “You’re Anomalisa.”
Kaufman’s story originated in 2005 as a “radio play” for composer Carter Burwell’s Theater of New Ear at UCLA’s Royce Hall in Los Angeles; Burwell scored Kaufman’s screenplays for “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation” and now this.
Working with animator Duke Johnson, Kaufman focuses one man’s darkly comic yet desperate need for human connection. Michael’s plastic face has visible black seams running temple-to-temple, along the hairline and down his chin, obviously dividing it into quadrants that can become unhinged.
FYI: Kaufman often uses Francis Fregoli as a pseudonym, referencing the Fregoli delusion, a rare psychiatric condition in which a person sees the rest of the world as populated by multiple versions of one, ominously malevolent individual.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Anomalisa” is an absurdist, surreal 8, superciliously meditating on our increasingly prevalent social isolation.