Humanity Without Humans – Anomalisa Delivers

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David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Anomalisa is a testament to how an animated movie geared for adults can hold its own against live action films. Props to Charlie Kaufman, writer and director of the film, as Anomalisa probes deep into what exactly it means to be human while making stop motion characters seem impossibly more relatable than actual humans. Anomalisa follows Michael Stone (David Thewlis), a motivational speaker prepping for a speech at the Fregoli Hotel in Cincinnati for his best selling book on customer service, “How May I Help You Help Them?” As the audience gains insight into Michael’s life, we come to realize how dissatisfied he actually is. He is seemingly in a marriage that he is not happy with and he has grown tired of life’s monotony. But it is how Kaufman cleverly shows Michael being trapped in a mundane existence: by having every character he interacts with being voiced by the same actor, Tom Noonan. With each character sounding exactly the same, Kaufman effectively illustrates just how out of touch Michael is with everyone and how dissatisfied he is with his own life. Everyone around him is indistinguishable from one another, and he is clearly unable to ignite a spark that would bring out resilient emotions that have apparently remained dormant for a long time.

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Jennifer Jason Leigh sings, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”

This all changes when Michael encounters Lisa, a sales rep that is also in Cincinnati to see Michael deliver his speech on customer service. Unlike the other characters (voiced by Noonan), Lisa is voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh, which makes Lisa standout in more ways than one from the other characters. Leigh does an amazing job at evoking emotion and bringing Lisa to life, which is purposefully unheard in other characters. Noonan does a great job of maintaining a monotone expression in voice, barely fluctuating in intonation but Leigh’s voice is almost like a lullaby to Michael—a standout moment features Lisa singing to Michael a tender and compelling version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”  I wish I can say that Michael finds a happy ending but Kaufman stays away from the generic and delivers a less formulaic ending: Michael comes to realize that Lisa is not what he is seeking in life. He is soon disillusioned and-what is probably a cycled of behavior, joyous Lisa begins to sound like Noonan—she’s ultimately the same as everyone else in his life. In a gripping story of the quest to find solace in life, Anomalisa ‘s Michael shows how difficult it can be to navigate life, highlighting how we deal with our fear of losing touch with others but still wanting to be connected at the same time. Coupled with a strong script and a complex protagonist, Anomalisa excellently executes insight into human nature.

—Oscar Flores

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