Hot Take: Charlie Kaufman makes more film school student/film critic porn and this time I’m not buying it.
Sometimes it’s great when a film makes you think. Sometimes it’s fun when a film gives you pause to reflect on your own thinking and wonder if you are fundamentally flawed. Sometimes a film can be therapeutic in the way it delivers a message. Sometimes it’s bullshit. Anomalisa felt more like bullshit. It’s interesting, watchable bullshit but it’s bullshit nonetheless.
Spoiler Alert: The rest of this piece will likely give away some of the film’s plot twists and break from the typical format of this site. This is a post about film school porn, after all.
Please don’t give me this crap about how brilliant and moving Anomalisa is. The film is about a self-centered, self-absorbent asshole. Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is a customer service guru who has apparently inspired the world to deliver incredible customer service through his brilliant self-help guides to improving customer service. Unfortunately, for Stone, the world doesn’t inspire him back. He’s a miserable, depressed older man who doesn’t find happiness in anyone or anything. He’s married to a woman he barely wants to talk to, has a kid he can barely relate to and, on a business trip to Cincinnati, can find nothing better to do than order room service, raid the mini bar and call up an old conquest to see if maybe just maybe there’s something still there.
When he meets up with his old flame, Bella, if we hadn’t figured out Stone’s problem, we are now acutely aware that everyone in his life sounds the same (everyone is voiced by Tom Noonan). He’s bored by it all and searching for that different voice he hasn’t heard in some time. Despite the lack of stimulation Bella provides, he still tries to get her up to his room for more private time (basically, he wants to get laid, let’s be real) and Bella storms out. Our sad sack protagonist is alone again.
After heading back to his room and taking a shower, Stone hears a voice from the hall that isn’t Noonan’s and takes off into the hall frantically knocking on the doors of the other hotel patrons searching for the voice. He finally happens upon Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her friend who are both huge fans of Stone and there to see him do a speech at the conference Michael is in town for. Stone invites them down to the bar for drinks as he obviously and desperately wants to get to know Lisa more, even though both Lisa and her friend are completely oblivious to this fact.
After some drinks, Stone walks the intoxicated women back to their room and then, despite the fact her friend is all over him, asks Lisa back to his room for a nightcap. After some prodding, Lisa makes her way to his room. They drink more. Michael becomes creepy and keeps asking Lisa to talk and then even asks her to sing. Initially, Lisa identifies the creepiness of it all but then, too enamored with the attention she is receiving, gives in. She even sings for him. Eventually, the two end up on the bed. Things progress to a sexual encounter. After sex, they sleep and Michael has a nightmare about everyone else trying to take him away from Lisa.
Michael and Lisa wake up together. Michael is still infatuated with Lisa’s unique voice and the nightmare has pushed him to action. As the two share room service breakfast, Michael lays out his plan for the two. He wants to leave his wife and child and be with Lisa. Lisa spends little time pondering and is instantly on board. As the two discuss particulars, Lisa’s voice begins to change. Suddenly, Michael hears the voice of everyone else coming out of Lisa.
Freaked out, Michael melts down at the conference and runs back home to Los Angeles without Lisa. There, his wife has thrown him a surprise party for him inviting people Michael says he doesn’t even know. There’s also Michael’s reunion with his young son. Upon their reunion, Michael gives him a gift from the road — a Japanese sex toy (apparently leaking semen) — and returns to his mundane existence.
Meanwhile, Lisa heads back to her life in Akron, bummed about how their encounter ended and seemingly a little confused but, at the same time, you get the feeling she’s gotten something out of it and will grow as a person. Michael… he’s just an asshole.
For the most part, the take on Anomalisa is on how it perfectly captures isolation, loneliness, desperation and depression. Personally, I think it’s about a self-absorbed asshole being a self-absorbed asshole.