Sunday, January 10, 2016

Anomalisa [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (4 Stars) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (A-)  Fr. Dennis (1 Star)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review  

I found Anomalisa [2015] (written and co-directed by Charlie Kaufman [wikip] [IMDb] along with Duke Johnson [IMDb] based on Charlie Kaufman's [wikip] [IMDb] own stage play by the same name) to be very, very, indeed relentlessly, flat / boring.  'Course that was a good part of the point ;-) or :-/.

This (I kid Readers not) appropriately R-rated movie that uses _clay puppets_ to tell its tale, presents then the story of a short (less than 24 hour) "business trip" of Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) to Cincinnati, Ohio.  Now why was he going to this moderately sized if quite random American city?  Well, Stone was something of a "guru" in the field of "customer service."  He's hailed in the story as the author of a seminal book on the matter entitled: "How may I help you help them?" ;-).  And he was scheduled to give a talk at a trade conference assembling there.

The film begins with Stone arriving the evening before said conference at Cincinnati's airport after a thoroughly uneventful commercial flight.  He hails down a taxi to take him to an upscale hotel -- "The Fregoli" -- in the center of town.

The "chit-chat" of the conversation that takes place between the taxi driver and Stone as they travel between the airport and hotel is one that most American adults would have heard before: Here are two people who've never seen each other before and 10-15-20 minutes from now will never see each other again.  Stone has arrived in this random American city (the "third largest in the state of Ohio") that he's apparently "visited once before" (a fair number of years ago) and will probably not visit again for quite some time afterwards.  On the other hand, it's the taxi driver's city, a city that he's proud of.  So in those 10-15-20 minutes he tries to tell Stone "what to see / do" while in this "Great City of Cincinnati" -- "You must go to the Zoo" / "You must try our Chili" ;-).  And indeed through-out the rest of the film, there are references to Cincinnati's "great zoo" / "delicious chili" ;-)

Stone arrives at the hotel, pays the driver, goes over to  the guy the front desk, gets a room, is assigned a bell-hop (to help him with his one small carry-on bag ;-) to get to his room, arrives at said room, orders room service (and is reminded to "try our great chili" ;-).

EVERYTHING / EVERYBODY seems to be so much _the same_ and quite surprisingly / quite unsettlingly IT ALL IS / THEY ALL ARE ...  very much "THE SAME":  (1) All the people (including Stone) are CLAY PUPPETS who are _given the appearance of movement_ through stop motion animation (where between each frame, the clay puppets -- their appendages, eyes, facial expressions -- are moved / changed _ever so slightly_ so as to GIVE THE APPEARANCE of motion when viewed afterwards at a fairly rapid rate - 10 frames, 20 frames / second ;-).  Then (2) EVERYBODY who Stone meets even seems to SOUND THE SAME.  And they do, because _except for Stone himself_, THEY ARE ALL (male / female, young / old) VOICED BY THE SAME PERSON (Tom Noonan ;-).

What's going on here? ;-)

Well Chicago Tribune movie critic Michael Phillips notes in his review (above) that the name of the Hotel "The Fregoli" gives Viewers a big clue.  This is because there is a psychological condition called the Fregoli Delusion [wikip] in which a person comes to hold the "delusional belief that different people are in fact a single person who changes appearance or is in disguise."   So the (fictionalized) "customer service guru" Michael Stone finds himself in a world where EVERYBODY seems to be basically the same person.

What does he do?  Well this is IMHO the problematic aspect of the film: He chooses to "act out."

That is, Stone spends much of the film trying "desperately" to find SOME WOMAN who is "different" from everybody else TO SLEEP WITH HER.  Now, we're shown that he's married and even with a kid.  And he talks to them both on the phone after he arrives at the hotel (with both his wife and kid voiced again by the same Tom Noonan ;-) or ;-/ ).  He even looks up an old flame, who apparently lives in Cincinnati (and who he had probably bedded the last time (the only time...) that he had passed through the city).  She's again voiced by Tom Noonan.  And this time, she doesn't want to go to bed with him. 

Finally, by sheer accident, he finds ONE PERSON, a soft spoken Lisa Hesselmann (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), a customer service rep from Akron, OH (basically just like Cincinnati only smaller, and _perhaps_ "sadder") who's come to Cincinnati with a coworker (voiced again by Tom Noonan) to hear Stone speak at the convention.  And LISA's "somewhat different" ... Indeed, she confesses to Stone that she's always thought of herself as "an anomaly" -- from which the name of the story derives: Anoma(Li)sa ;-)

BUT, (1) how "different" is Lisa really?  After all, she's a well-trained, professional(ized) "customer service rep" from anywhere-ville (Akron, OH) ...  and (2) even if Lisa really is "at least a little different (from the others)" IS "DIFFERENCE" ACTUALLY WHAT STONE "IS LOOKING FOR" ANYWAY?  After all, "difference" can be charming, but it can also be(come) annoying.

In any case, the two -- Stone and Anoma(Li)sa -- share probably the _saddest_ / most pathetic (adulterous) "sex scene" (after all, they are two "clay puppets" ...) in the history of movies.

Honestly, it was awful.  And it makes for a very interesting if very, very sad perspective on adultery.  One at least expects (hopes (!)) adultery to be "Exciting" [TM] ... Here it's presented as a really really sad, even desperate act between _two clay puppets_ filmed in stop-motion-animation _quite literally_ "just going through the motions" ;-) or :-(.

And this feeling of sad emptiness pervades the whole film: Stone seemed to believe that the whole world was filled with people who were pretty much all the same, YET (1) he worked in a field, INDEED WAS AN EXPERT IN A FIELD that HELPS MAKE THEM THAT WAY and (2) he wasn't really sure if he liked "difference" much anyway when he finally seemed to find it.

It becomes rather pathetic / sad ... Yet the film clearly seemed "to speak to" a good part of the rather young, (one guesses) probably "quite liberal" / "hipsterish" audience viewing the film when I saw it recently.  Sigh, again HOW SAD ...

I honestly left QUITE HAPPY that _my world_ "at the Parish" has _never_ been so flat ... If anything, we have "more characters" -- from young to old, from athletic, to "smart", to artistic (and everything in between) of truly a multitude of ethnicities / backgrounds -- than we can handle ;-).   But at least it's NEVER, EVER "BORING."

Sigh, the tragedy of being "too smart" / too jaded for one's own good ...

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