Published On: Thu, Jan 21st, 2016

A Weird, Wonderful “Anomalisa”

anomalisa 2

By Skip Sheffield

What a weird and wonderful stop-action puppet-animated film “Anomalisa” is. It opens for an exclusive run at the Shadowood Theater Friday, Jan. 22. It may open wider later.

“Anomalisa” is a project of the wizard of weird, Charlie Kaufman. He is the mastermind of such enigmatic masterpieces as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Being John Malkovich.”

Shall we cut to the chase? The meaning of the title is not revealed until halfway through the movie. I don’t think it is a plot-spoiler to reveal Lisa Hesselman (voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh) considers herself an anomaly. That means she deviates from the normal or expected. Her name is Lisa, hence “Anomalisa.”

It has been a banner year for Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was most recently battered as a condemned desperado in Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.”

Lisa is not so desperate. She is terribly insecure though. When motivational specialist Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis) travels to Cincinnati to speak on his latest book, he discovers that Lisa and her friend at staying at the same posh Fregoli Hotel. This is an inside Kaufman joke, as the movie was based on a play written by him under the nom de plume Francis Fregoli. It takes some convincing on Michael’s part, but after some drinks and a visit to his room, he seduces Lisa.

“Anomalisa” features some of the most realistic puppet sex you will see. But this is not a happy-ever-after story. Michael has big emotional problems, and he has a kind of breakdown at his big speech. Instead of motivating them, Michael makes them question if life is worth it.

I had a little discussion with my friend Beth after the screening. I saw it as a romance. She disagreed, and saw it more as an anti-romance. She is a woman and she is probably right. One superbly weird thing about “Anomalisa” is that all parts other than Michael or Lisa are voiced by Tom Noonan. This definitely adds to the creepy factor, and it gets creepier still when Jennifer Jason Leigh’s voice suddenly becomes Tom Noonan’s. What it all means I do not know, but it is unsettling, and in this case that’s a good thing.

Three and a half stars

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