Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
Directed by: Charlie Kaufman (“Synecdoche, New York”) and Duke Johnson (debut)
Written by: Charlie Kaufman (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”)
The mind of writer and director Charlie Kaufman is an odd, and often times brilliant place. His creative, original and complex ideas have led to impressive pieces of cinema like “Being John Malkovich” and even an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” His style is uniquely his own, which, of course, means that it is an acquired taste always on the verge of being too clever for its own good. In “Anamolisa,” Kaufman tests the limits of subtlety and eccentricity in an animated meditation on depression.
A man named Michael (David Thewlis) is on a tour giving speeches about his line of work. Fighting depression and his mundane life, Michael unhappily finds himself in a distant city in a hotel room. There, he meets a girl named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is different in comparison to everyone he has met in recent memory. As he develops a quick relationship with this insecure woman, he tests his feelings to see if they are real.
The most notable stylistic quality of “Anamolisa” is its use of beautiful animation. With 3-D printed faces, characters look photorealistic and settings are gorgeous and detailed. The use of animation actually allows Kaufman to take the idea for the film and make it possible and convincing. To display true depression, Kaufman makes everyone that Michael runs into have the same exact face and monotonous voice regardless of gender. It’s a quality that lends itself to some funny jokes and moments, but completely runs its course by the middle of the film.
It is those qualities and the wonderful voice work by David Thewlis that really drive home the themes of isolation, loneliness and depression. As Michael wanders through a secluded life, everyone he meets is exactly the same and he could not be less interested. Kaufman does a good job of displaying the need for human contact that can plague some of those with depression, but we never really see true nuances for Michael that are below skin deep. It becomes evident as the film progresses that the narrative isn’t nearly as important as the character study. Unfortunately, none of the characters are particularly interesting.
“Anamolisa” is one of the more adult animated films that you’ll see. It has somewhat graphic sex scenes, harsh language, and very mature themes. It would be dishonest to call “Anamolisa” a gimmick, because Kaufman is sincere and meticulous with his themes. But what would be fair would be to call “Anamolisa” an underwhelming and surface level film that never truly inspires enough empathy.