Days come and go without anything happening. Stuck-in-a-routine doesn’t even begin to describe it. Everything is the same, almost identical. You get up, get ready, go to the most mundane office, work the same hours doing the same things, come back home, watch TV, have dinner, go to sleep. In between, overhear the most boring individuals getting caught up in the most predictable chats. They all seem to have the same voice and make the same jokes. Nothing ever happens. Nothing. Ever. Happens.
Charlie Kaufman takes Francis Fregoli’s play and turns it into a film which conjures mundanity too well, and gets across what its protagonist is going through so brilliantly. As soon as Anomalisa begins, we get caught in that feeling of pointlessness and irritation. It’s not even real anger that this state of mind creates in us or our protagonist, as even that would require some kind of emotion and we all seem to lack it. No, Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) and his life make us sleepy, sluggish and irritable. He can’t stand it, and we can’t either, but we’re all too conformed and deep in it to act.
At a time when I am stuck in such a dull, uneventful everyday life, myself, Anomalisa hit the spot in ways I can’t even describe. As Michael Stone walks around stripped of all excitement, anticipation or eagerness for anything, he hears one and only voice coming out of the mouths of everyone around him (Tom Noonan’s voice, for that matter). It’s one voice and it’s that voice. That customer-service voice. That beige, lukewarm, void of life, voice. It has become this man’s life’s soundtrack, just as it has for so many others.
This all changes thankfully when he comes back to his hotel room one evening, during a business trip, and hears another voice. A different voice and what’s more, a female voice (Jennifer Jason Leigh’s voice, actually). He panics, he starts shaking, he quickly throws on him the first thing he finds and runs out into the corridor to track down that extraordinary person. He believes she sounds ethereal, he thinks she looks stunning, he is convinced to have found the love of his life. He has just met the only one who is not a clone. The only non-dreary individual in this dismal planet.
Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman’s film uses animation in order to tell its story, a technique which proves more than effective in crafting a world where everyone is the same – looks the same and sounds the same – everyone is dressed identical, talks about the same things and even orders the same drink at the bar. The hotel room is bare and lacking character, just like the puppets spending a few nights in it. And the corridors are long and empty, with that known lighting and that indistinguishable music.
But Lisa is different – so different in fact, that she is quickly nicknamed Anomalisa. She sounds different and makes different jokes (bad ones, as far as I’m concerned, but still different ones). She is lively and quite fun, self-conscious and somewhat chubby. She likes the little things, has a sweet singing voice and sounds cute when venturing to bad Italian. She is a kind, girl-next-door kind of being which, at a time of expected and plastic perfection, is refreshing for Michael and the viewers get that.
Besides, let’s not forget that this is, and always will be, the world of customer service. Michael Stone is a customer service guru, on a trip to give a customer service speech. The hotel is full of customer service enthusiasts and Lisa and her friend are here to inform themselves further on customer service – not to mention to meet their customer service idol, Michael Stone. In a world of such customer service worship, Lisa is indeed as extraordinary as it gets. And Michael quickly realizes that this is as much as he can hope for.
Watch here a trailer of Anomalisa.