image courtesy of comicsbeat.com
This was a massive disappointment as Charlie Kaufman is usually an A+ in my book. The man wrote some of my favourite movies in life – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, and Adaptation. They’re absurd, heartfelt, meaningful and fun with flawed, true to life characters. While Anomalisa is absolutely stunning to watch, I think I would’ve enjoyed it a hell of a lot more on mute.
Everyone, everywhere, is collectively shitting themselves over this movie. And I’m not writing this to be some contrarian blowhard. Yes, the meticulous craft and work put into the stop motion 3D printed characters and environments was absolutely hypnotic and gorgeous.. but for me, the actual plot was a mess. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good fucked out movie portraying existential loneliness and the human condition, but it needs to be done well. “Is that all there is?” always rings true, but it has to be done thoughtfully.
Existential drudgery as justification for seeking out the Manic Pixie Dream Affair with the Damaged Girl is not unfamiliar turf; take a look at Lost in Translation. That’s a shining example of this story done well. A similarly broken man looking for something he’s lost, grappling at finding it in an adventure with an attractive stranger. That burning need to feel something. Getting it, and relishing it.
We are all familiar with the Bloated White Male Fantasy of running away from your wife and family because it’s all just so ordinary (American Beauty), the crushing mundanity of the days that turn into weeks and months and years. That whole not giving a single fuck because #YOLO/time is precious/”she just makes me feel so ALIVE” trope, the yearning for adventure attached to a girl with crazy hair or a gap in her teeth or something.
Clementine turns this around on Joel with her now iconic schpiele in Eternal Sunshine, and I appreciated how purely meta that scene played. It was what I always needed that female character to say to her vaguely nebbish male counterpart;
“I’m not a concept. Too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them or I’m going to ‘make them alive’.. but I’m just a fucked up girl who’s looking for my own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours.”
Kaufman is no stranger to meta, which is why Anomalisa is so spectacularly disappointing; unless I’m missing the damn joke.
Oh yeah, and then there’s some wild/tragic event that makes the guy realise that hey, maybe he’s being an asshole and should knock it off. And he comes to grips with What Really Matters(TM), roll credits.
(Or the wife finds out, leaves him, strong independent happy woman/sad bastard sleeping in a racecar bed sequence, roll credits.)
Anomalisa ends with Michael Stone staring at a bizarre one-titted Japanese antique sex robot he brought home for his son. It’s arguably the most interesting character moment in this movie.
The sex robot has a different voice as well, and he stares longingly at her like a dipshit on the landing of his stairs at his own surprise party. Maybe this robot semen-spewing woman could make him whole? What.
I keep thinking to myself, what did Michael Stone learn from all this, if anything? He’s a repulsive character. From his thousand-yard stare at the sex robot, looks like he learned approximately fuckall. What are we to take away from this movie besides “don’t be like this guy”? It seems too obvious and a bit too late to be a cautionary tale. What is it, then?
I think what bothered me the most about Anomalisa was how goddamned on the nose everything was. I get it- the guy is lonely. He’s the famous reigning authority on Customer Service and how to deal with customers, yet he cannot relate to real people. HEY GUYS, IRONY!
The morning after Michael and Lisa have uncomfortable 3D stop motion weird sex, his whole fantasy falls to bits when he realises she’s a person with idiosyncrasies he distinctly dislikes. IMAGINE THAT, he gets bored easily? You don’t say. Her blazing, radiating insecurity actually makes this scene pitiful and hard to watch.
Lisa even comes out and plainly says she doesn’t like herself, that guys tend to go for her Attractive Blonde Friend(TM). Ugh. Show, don’t tell. He was creeping on Lisa from the getgo and it gave me douche chills. I understand that people who have not been involved with an asshole of this calibre may pick up on the slow reveal much later and be captivated by it even, but I saw it almost immediately miles away.
Speaking of some asshole preying on insecure women, his ex-girlfriend of a decade ago for some reason agrees to meet up with him, and also immediately says negative things about herself and he feeds into her low self esteem; I experienced a douche seizure. Even rewinding to the start of the movie when he arrives in his hotel and calls his wife, his blatant dissatisfaction and loathing for her and his son are heady. ENOUGH ALREADY, MOVIE. Jesus.
Seriously, some of the dialogue in this movie made me want to leave Earth.
It’s fucking 2016 and we’re still here. Here’s a narcissist who’s trapped in the day to day, everyone is exactly the same, bluntly down to the same person voicing every single character around him, for Christ’s sake. The movie took a turn for the exciting and absurd with a particularly creepy and well done dream sequence, but it snapped back to garbage ‘reality’ disappointingly quickly.
The scant detail we got from his prior relationship was that he ran off at the first sign of intensity (and rereads the ‘fuck you’ letter from the ex because he’s, like, so deep) and regretted it. OK, we’ve all been there. Being vulnerable in a romantic relationship is wholly and completely terrifying; that was the one part of the movie I could relate to. This dude responded to that feeling, of course, by getting married and having a baby somewhere else. Another set of decisions he regretted.
This manpain bullshit all stems from a lack of self-awareness; if he’d quit looking for The One to make him whole and spend some time looking inward, he’d be a hell of a lot less awful. He’d also stop repeating the same mistakes and find the depth he’s craving.
If you’re going to write a movie about seeking out the adventure as attached to and defined by a person, do it in an engaging way. I love Up in the Air because it turns this trope on it’s head. When that effervescent human flaw and longing is part of the larger narrative, the reveal of “my real life is not what I imagined it to be which is why I bang around on business trips” has more punch and way more character payoff. The fact that in this instance it comes from a woman deepens the impact.
If you want a great movie about the aridity of loneliness and isolation, check out The Rules of Attraction. This is a movie I keep revisiting, year after year. The characters are all extraordinarily well-developed and human. It manages to capture the stark loneliness of the college experience in a way I’ve never seen before or since. This idea is rarely addressed in mainstream media.
Anyway.. that’s my story. What a mess. A testament to the filmmakers is that at least I had such a visceral reaction to how gross Michael Stone is; he’s a fucking 3D printer puppet, and I hate him. So, there’s that.
Apologies for the 8-month hiatus; turns out getting married is really fucking time-consuming.
I’ve got a top/shite movies of 2015 post in the works as well.. stay tuned!