We meet Michael Stone (David Thewlis), author of the dry-titled yet popular business book ‘How May I Help You Help Them?’, while he’s on his way to Cincinnati to speak at a convention. Straight off the bat we know something’s not right. Despite being the man of the moment he’s clearly not happy. A begrudged phone call home reveals that Michael is married with a child, yet talking to them feels like a chore. We learn that Cincinnati is the home-town of the ex that he abruptly jilted and through Michael’s constant sighing, eye-rubs and daydreams it becomes obvious there’s a hole in his life that he’s unable to fill. In the words of Alan Partridge, Michael Stone is “clinically fed up”.
Kaufman makes no bones in showing this to us in the most literal way possible: everyone looks and sounds exactly the same. Michael is trapped in a monotonous world populated by bland bodies however all this changes when he hears a new voice. Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a bit of a Michael Stone fangirl but self conscious of the scar on her face - ironically one that directors Kaufman and Duke Johnston keep hidden from us, highlighting Michael’s intense fascination with this new face. Could Lisa be the anomaly that fixes Michael’s emptiness? As their relationship develops we soon find out.
Kaufman and Duke’s painstaking method of telling their story is undeniably impressive. The duo use ultra-real 3D printed models to enact what is essentially a small scale drama that unwinds at its own pace. Scenes are long and meandering, flecked with a sly humour and emotional weight but definitely beating to their own drum. Thewlis, with his deeply Northern, slow and steady dialect hits his aspect of the story home effortlessly - an unusual casting choice but one that certainly serves a purpose. The animation is brilliant too with some movements and facial expressions so accurate, you’ll forget you’re actually watching a collection of plastic dolls and not real people. The 3D printed aspect adds a gentle, layered texture to each flesh-toned face, making everyone eerily life-like. We’ll no doubt be seeing this tech used more on screen in the future.
Overall, Anomalisa is like most of Kaufman’s movies - compelling but maybe not for everyone. The lasting impression is a bit like the film’s tortured lead Michael Stone - deep, introspective and full of difficult thoughts.