Ashvegas Movie Review: Anomalisa


By Marcianne Miller


Animated Drama: A soul-dead man tries to find human connections.

Special Note: Great stop-action puppet animation.

Voices: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan

Co-Directors: Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman.

Rating: Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language.

Fine Arts and Carolina Cinemas. Check theatre listings.

Grade: C+

It’s tough to review a movie you expected to like and after you slogged through it, all you could feel is that 90 minutes of life had been drained out of you. The reason I didn’t give a D to Anomalisa, is that the stop-action puppet animation was fascinating. If you’re an arty cineaste or an animation nut you should see the movie on the big screen. Otherwise, wait for the DVD.

Anomalisa is a short chapter in the life of a man who feels he is dead to human interaction. Thus his name, Michael Stone, get it—stone, lifeless rock? Michael (voice of David Thewlis) has a British accent, which makes him an outsider no matter where he goes in the country but I think no one likes him because he’s an obnoxious, heavy smoker. He lives in L.A. with his wife and son, but as a customer-service guru, he travels a lot, giving speeches for corporations with bloated training budgets.

In Cincinnati, he phones his old lover whom he abandoned years ago and asks to see her–not to enjoy a nice dinner with him, mind you, but for a late-night drink in the hotel bar. She listens to his whiny shtick and marches out. By this time we have registered that every puppet in the film except Michael looks alike, as if they all wear compartmentalized masks to hide their real selves–get it—everybody’s an imposter. And they all sound alike, too, thanks to Tom Noonan, who voices all but two characters.

Since the hotel is named The Fregoni, we are lead to believe that Michael suffers the Fregoni syndrome, which means that, to him, everybody looks and sounds like the same person. Or it could be simply that Michael is a charmless, unfunny guy, who doesn’t care about anybody but himself? Does it really matter if Today’s Everyman suffers a delusion or if he is just a self-centered jerk?

Change of pace–he meets naïve Lisa (voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is so beguiling that he declares she is a rarity in his life, an anomaly, so he names her Anomalisa and seduces her in his hotel room. It’s R-rated animated sex, yes, unique but oh so impersonal. It took six months for co-director Duke Johnson to make the scene, so out of respect for all the labor involved, I didn’t run out screaming in boredom

Lisa lies back on the bed, happy and satisfied. She’s fully naked. Michael shows no frontal nudity, just cigarette puffs. As much in love as Lisa now thinks she is, poor Michael is still an insufferable dullard and heads for a nervous breakdown. By now, who the hell cares?

You should know there are a lot more scenes, some of them pretty freaky, and more characters than I mentioned in this brief review. If you see this film with a group of friends, you’d be talking about it all night. Doesn’t mean you’d like it, just that, if nothing else, the film provokes varied reactions.

Anomalisa is written by Charlie Kaufman, based on his play, and co-directed with Duke Johnson. We all know Charlie Kaufman because he wrote and directed some of America’s best films, including Synecdoche New York (2008), starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, and wrote one of my favorite movies, Being John Malkovich (1999).

As I was thinking how much I disliked this film, I kept wondering what it would be like if it were a woman, instead of a man, as the main character? Is maddening loneliness only an affliction for men? I don’t think so. That’s why I’d be curious to see what Anomalisa’s filmmakers would do if they stopped telling their own stories and tried telling a woman’s story instead.

Image link for Anomalisa.

Marcianne Miller is a member of SEFCA (Southeast Film Critics Assn.) and NCFCA (North Carolina Film Critics Assn.) Email her at