Anomalisa felt like a windfall at the Toronto Film Festival last year. The success was such that Paramount quickly clinched its international distribution rights. At first, the film struggled to find funding, despite Kaufman’s strong name and reputation. The director then resorted to crowdfunding via KickStarter, and every single individual contributor is credited at the end of the film. He explained: “If things are perceived to have commercial potential, then there is no place for me in the business. It only happened because I went outside of the business”.
This unusual funding route is precisely what allowed Kaufman to make a dirty and disturbing movie, far away from his comfort zone: portraying couples at a crisis. Anomalisa confounded many expectations.
The film was originally conceived as a radio show in which one single actor voiced many parts. The play was then adapted into a script for a stop-motion. In the film, all characters have male voices, except Lisa’s, making her “anomalous”. Due to budget limitations, they recorded all the voices in practically one take.
Anomalisa is a stop-motion animation movie telling the story of two unlikely lovers. Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is a successful motivational speaker who wrote a book about customer services, which turned him into a very famous author. His personal life, on the other hand, is a failure. He feels the urge to find a woman, but his demeanour is often untoward and deplorable. He is married and has a child but his connection with them seems to be the same as a call center worker and his client. He arranges a meeting with a former girlfriend but it proves to be a disaster. He then meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who came to Cincinnati in order to attend his talk. Lisa could have a positive, strong and lasting impact on his life. But then, to her disappointment, a man is a man after all.
Despite of being a stop-motion animation, the characters seem to materialise into humans. The puppets seem so real that you can actually hear them breathing.
The process of creating, developing and shooting the movie was meticulous and laborious. The team worked only with puppets, dismissing the use of computers. The puppets were caught frame-by-frame. “The puppets are posed in various static positions in a sequence over the course of a series of frames. When the frames are played back in real time, it creates the illusion of movement”, explains Duke Johnson. It can take weeks or months to animate a single shot.
Some of Kaufman’s most recognisable ingredients are present in Anomalisa, such as goofy humour and the constant scrutinisation of relationships between men and women. The first encounter of Michael and Lisa is just as awkward as the one between Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) in Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004). Authenticity is also central in all of Kaufman’s work, and his characters are easily relatable.
Anomalisa is an utterly human movie, complete with feelings of good and bad: love, lust, compassion, jealousy and greed. It is rare to see all these elements effectively combined in such a compelling and perceptive way nowadays. The film is out for general release in the UK on Friday March 11th, and there will be a screening followed by Q&A session with the directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson on Thursday March 3rd at the Curzon Soho (click here for more information).