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From the Oscar winner who brought you Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich: Michael Stone - husband, father and noted author - travels to Cincinnati to speak at a customer service conference. But once he's separated from the routine of his daily life, a chance encounter helps him to realize just what, and whom, he's been missing in this stop-motion work of art from directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson. (Adapted from the Paramount synopsis)

 Anomalisa
I'd like to preface my review by saying if you are already interested in Anomalisa from the previews, or because it is the work of Charlie Kaufman, just go watch it. Much of my enjoyment came from not knowing the full nature of the screenplay going in, and I want others to experience that.

I've always been an enthusiastic fan of Kaufman's work, be it alongside directors Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, or his directorial debut Synecdoche, New York. His scripts have many bizarre qualities that make them memorable and more often than not they deal with fantasy versus reality. In a lot of ways Anomalisa is his ultimate exploration of the subject. It flirts with that line on a formal level before a story even begins to coalesce. I went in to Anomalisa expecting the stop-motion to just be an aesthetic choice. That's because I'm an idiot and I should know better going into a Kaufman picture. It's far more than that. When you realize the way Kaufman and co-director Johnson are playing with the form it becomes clear how essential it is. This is the perfect way to tell the story of a man losing his mind over the monotony of his life. For instance, everyone but Michael Stone has the same face. Everyone, be it man or woman, all have the same voice (a terrific Tom Noonan). And when has any other psychological drama featured a protagonist who can literally come apart at the seams? When Michael meets Lisa and she has a new face and a new voice, it pierces through everything else for both him and the viewer. The puppets are designed and photographed with a level of skill that approaches uncanny valley and brings a surreal quality to the story it wouldn't have with live actors.

 Anomalisa
Thematic benefits aside, the stop-motion is awesome to look at. The attention to small details, from a furnished interior to fidgeting human movements, is astonishing. With the way marketing works it's too easy to think of this as a Kaufman movie alone, but co-director Duke Johnson deserves an enormous amount of credit for his stop-motion work. If it is not enough to tell a painfully human story with puppets successfully, Anomalisa features one of the most prolonged sex scenes for a studio release in recent memory. Yep, the puppets have sex. You'd be forgiven for thinking of Team America: World Police. Kaufman did too, and he points out in the extras that they worked hard to make sure the scene was taken seriously. I'd call it a success. It's awkward and profound but not because it is puppets having sex. It's portrayed in such an honest way that you never see in movies. The protagonists flabby, realistic body shapes are a wonderful touch. Michael Stone is no Ken doll. Anomalisa has a lot of small, uncomfortably human moments and it consistently amazes me how believable they are in stop-motion form. This is also thanks to terrific voice acting work from David Thewlis, Tom Noonan and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Noonan, who takes up the responsibility of voicing every other character in the film, is often quite funny. Leigh is terrific and instantly likable as Lisa.

When I saw Anomalisa for the first time in the 2015 award season I was lukewarm on it. I admired it from a distance. I thought it was extremely clever for the reasons I outlined above, but I didn't connect with it on an emotional level at all. I didn't share the neuroses of the main character and thought he came across as a bit of a jerk. I don't need to relate to a lead character or think he's a good person to enjoy a movie, but I was bothered that the film was not more critical of the lead character. It is so empathetic toward Michael Stone and so tightly rooted in his perspective that it frustrated me. Perhaps this is just a type of person I struggle to feel empathy for, and that's on me. I walked away impressed but scratching my head as to why so many people were completely bowled over by it. Repeat viewings were a must. The hotel Michael stays at in the film is titled "The Fregoli", and I only read about the Fregoli delusion after seeing the film. Many have said this movie is about that delusion and believe it to be a drama about mental illness, so I kept that perspective in mind on this viewing. I have a much less literal interpretation. I think the story is about loneliness and alienation that everyone feels, and perhaps the delusion inspired Kaufman's approach to the subject. If he has said otherwise feel free to let me know. I've warmed up to Anomalisa a bit since, but my problems with that first viewing linger. Still I enthusiastically recommend it because it is an impressive feat and there is nothing quite like it.

 Anomalisa

Video


I've already talked about how much I love the look and style of Anomalisa, so know that I consider Blu-ray (or UHD if it is available one day) to be the only way to watch this film at home so you can appreciate every small detail. This 1080p transfer from Paramount does the job and then some with a healthy bitrate on a BD-50 disc. Detail is extraordinary, with every texture of every material in focus being discernible. The lighting is very soft and diffusive, which can sometimes lead to a blotchy appearance but this is entirely an artistic choice that I quite like. Compared to most animated films Anomalisa doesn't have a lot of popping colors. It's meant to be set in the real world and the design is appropriately mundane for most of the runtime, so this won't necessarily be the most vibrant visual experiences, but the colors do look good. Black levels are consistent and strong, though with the warm lighting throughout most of the picture they actually appear as a very dark brown more than black. Crushing isn't a problem. This is as good as you could want this movie to look and fans shouldn't have any reservations about what Paramount has done here.

Audio


In the review I praised the voice acting work of Thewlis, Noonan and Leigh, and I'm happy to report that in this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track they sound fantastic. In animated work the Foley artists are often overlooked so I was pleased to see a featurette that focuses on the sounds of the movie. There isn't a whole lot happening with the 5.1 setup outside of ambient noises or off-screen voices, but this is a small scale drama story so that is to be expected. The sound design that is there is inspired and fitting, and has not suffered in the slightest in its transition to the home format. I'd love to see Anomalisa in it's original stage form where all the Foley work was done live along with the line readings. It'd be interesting to compare it to the final film. The audio here accompanies the story without being explosive and it never draws much attention to itself.

 Anomalisa

Extras


None of Them are You: Crafting Anomalisa (HD, 30:03) is a nice in-depth documentary about the creation of the film from it's early stages as a radio play to the final product. You get some cool footage of the stop-motion artists at work and there is some valuable interview material with David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan, Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman and others.

Intimacy in Miniature (HD, 09:22) is a look into, you guessed it, that puppet sex scene. If you thought seeing sincere puppet sex was odd this featurette will show you the voice actors at work. Kaufman acknowledges the Team America: World Police puppet sex scene that was a joke and mentions working hard to make sure this one was taken seriously. The stop-motion artists get into good detail about the technical difficulties of making the puppets bend in ways they weren't meant to. The Sound of Unease (HD, 05:42) is a good companion to the prior making-of featurette that gets into the inspiration behind the film's sound design and Foley work.

 Anomalisa

Overall


Nothing makes me trip over my own thoughts quite like the work of Charlie Kaufman, and I mean that as a high compliment. It will take more than two viewings to untangle my feelings on Anomalisa, but I look forward to the task. It's as uniquely clever as any of his works and I wish connected with it more on an emotional level, as so many others apparently have. The stop-motion approach he takes with co-director Duke Johnson is wonderfully realized and looks fantastic on this Blu-ray release. The audio is also impressive for a small scale picture and the extras, while low in number, are more than just the usual fluff.

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* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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