Movie Review: “Anomalisa” – Something Special

Written by Matt Butler January 23, 2016

David Thewlis voices Michael Stone in the animated stop-motion film, ANOMALISA

In a way, my experience of going to see Anomalisa was an anomaly itself. I just happened to be in Toronto -my personal vacation spot- for the weekend, and a friend of mine whom I hardly get the chance to see, and who shares my passion for animation -though to a higher degree, seeing as she’s pursuing an actual degree in animation- happened to be free and willing to see it. Add to the mix that the film had a very limited release and that it’s a Charlie Kaufman movie, and you’ve got a pretty serendipitous moviegoing experience.

Anomalisa centers around Michael Stone (David Thewlis), a depressive self-author stuck in a state of ultra-mundanity, that is, until he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an average woman by many accounts, but to Michael a striking anomaly, hence the portmanteau title. 


“I think you’re extraordinary… I don’t know yet, it’s just obvious to me that you are.”

Anomalisa is as poignant and surreal as any Kaufman film, but the premise and its execution are surprisingly compact when compared to his other high-concept films, which, let’s be fair, are all of his films. What do I mean by compact? Well, it has a lot to do with the 90-minute runtime, which limits exploration of the film’s central theme, which I’ll wager an educated guess is the mundanity of day-to-day life. Does this downgrade the film? No, in fact, I think it improves it exponentially. The movie ends with Michael feeling as incomplete as he did when the film started. While we do get some closure, there’s not enough to say Michael’s life has gotten any better or worse. The mundanity of the film becomes cyclical, just like real-life mundanity. In this way, the limitations of the film’s runtime open the movie up to expansive interpretation.

“Our time is limited, we forget that.”

Of course, I have to talk about the animation. At first, the choice to tell this story through stop-motion puzzled me. The events of the first ten minutes offered nothing that screamed ‘this must be animated’. Instead, it just felt like a mimicry of reality, but again, this seems to have been an intentional choice that only betters the film. To me, the stop-motion signifies a life not yet lived; Michael is but a shell of a man (one scene, in particular, realizes this idea literally), but at the same time, the details are so rich and the movements so fluid that you almost forget you’re watching stop-motion. This isn’t to say stop-motion, in general, is merely an imitation of real-life, the possibilities are extensive, but for this movie, it fit perfectly. This is one of those movies where you lose track of the sequence of events and just fall right into the scene. Some scenes do tend to run a little longer than necessary, but again, this feels intentional, like a story unbound, unrestricted by any preconceived rules. There’s a keen sense of intimacy at work here, and it makes me hopeful that moviegoers will start to recognize animation as a mature medium; not just for the family audience.

“Remember there is someone out there for everyone.”

Anomalisa lives up to its title as a unique and remarkable emblem of life’s little oddities and encapsulates with astounding grace what it means to fall in and out of love. This movie has seen such a limited release, but here’s hoping the Oscar nomination boosts its exposure. If you get the chance, see it. It’s one of those movies that, at the very least, deserves to earn back its budget.

My Rating: 9/10


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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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