Monday, September 12, 2016

DVD of the Week: Anomalisa

One of the two movies we got to watch on Saturdays quiet day around the house was Captain America: Civil War, which irrespective how much I like it - and I do like it a lot - is very much a modern blockbuster in many of it's habits. It's franchise-dependant, hugely expensive, full of shouting and banging and tons of characters and colour and excitement. Yay! And then Robert went to bed, and Ewan went to lurk off upstairs, and got to watch the other one, the low-budget, three-cast stop-motion movie Anomalisa. I'm struggling to think of a stranger double bill. 

So Anomalisa is in a long tradtion of movies where a middle-aged male proxy for the screen-writer (usually a writer themselves) gets stuck in a mid-life crisis and tries to work through it with sex and/or alchohol. Here we have Micheal, who is a motivational speaker, arriving in Cincinatti for a conference and setting up in the sort of hotel you see everywhere. Micheal is in the midst of a crisis in life, manifesting by the fact he sees everyone as the same person; same face, same voice, from strangers at the hotel to his wife and son back home. Then, at the hotel he hears a voice that is (finally) unique, and a face that is too, and starts a strange, awkward relationship with a woman he's just met. 

In a lot of ways this feels like a film I've seen before, at least in it's core elements. Micheal is a middle aged behaving badly out a crushing sense of mid-life existential crisis, that poor behaviour excused by the films sympathy for how broken he is. His connection to Lisa, and instant obsession with her, is more than a little creepy, and the film skirts around the idea that Lisa is a similarly damaged soul but never gives it much depth. The more intesting idea at the end, in that it's Lisa who is "freed" by their tryst rather than Micheal, is skipped past, and still relies on Micheals seductive agency, so sadly Lisa remains an object, rather than subject of the film. 

Anomalisas' big distinction then, is the stop motion animation that drives it. The idea that Micheals' world is inhabited by puppets gives it a strong sense of how disconnected he is from reality. The audiences distance becomes his distance, and the technical animation is excellent. Also, awkward graphic puppet sex, which was both sort of funny and sort of uncomfortable at the same time. But the effect works - it's certainly not just a gimmick. 

As you can probably tell I'm still having a lot of difficulty parsing out what I think of the film. It tells it's story and makes its point really well - it's got a lot of emotional depth and clever staging. But at the same time I can't shake the feeling that this is an overly familiar story told well, rather than a new story married to innovative delivery. I still enjoyed it and I'd still recommend it, but in some ways it's still a lost opportunity.