2015 animation for adults
Plot: A customer service guru travels to Cincinnati to speak at a conference and tries to decide whether or not to visit the zoo or have some chili. He meets a new friend.
Chalk this up as a movie that I definitely wanted to and expected to like a lot more than I did. The animation is beautifully done. I loved the setting details even though there weren't actually a lot of different locations. The main character's hotel room, a seemingly endless hallway, the hotel's basement, the interiors of a plane and taxi cab. I think that might be it. There were great details with the characters and their clothing, too. I think a lot of why I like stop-animation so much--and those of you who know me know that I'm a sucker for stop-animation--has to do with the textures. This uses the medium creatively but without showing off as the character engages in mundane activities like getting ice, wiping a mirror clean (see poster!), or pour drinks.
I'm not sure how I feel about the "acting" of these puppets. On the one hand, there are some great nuances, almost indiscernible facial tics or slight posture changes, that really help fill in gaps about the characters and all the things they experienced before this movie started. They're very minor moments, but in a movie where not all that much actually happens, they really stand out. On the other hand, there are times when the puppets' acting isn't great or the voice work doesn't seem to mesh. I like David Thewlis a lot, but I never really felt that his voice fit this character. Jennifer Jason Leigh's voice fits somewhat better, but there are times when I just didn't like her delivery. Cleverly--but maybe too cleverly, Kaufman--Tom Noonan voices "everyone else" in the movie. His contribution isn't supposed to be anything startling, so what he does for the characters is just about perfect.
The movie's quite the downer. Ennui is established early on, and it's so thick that when the main character does sense a little excitement in his life, the feeling is almost palpable. In the end, you're not sure if the character's been on a journey at all, and it's a little depressing watching the guy get from Point A to Point A again. At the end, I just wasn't sure what insight about life or being human I was supposed to gain from any of this. There's a point where the character, in a lengthy monologue that is either brilliant and darkly funny or too long and absurd, asks what it means to be human. I guess I just expected the puppets with their faces that looked like they could have fallen off at any moment to help answer that question.
There was so much potential here, and while I definitely didn't hate the movie, I didn't exactly love it either. What seemed oddest to me was that it forces you to trudge through the minutia of this guy's visit to the Queen City but then whips through some major plot points a little too rapidly. So a big revelation about the movie's title, an emerging internal conflict with our unlikable protagonist, and what might be a mental breakdown feel rushed or tacked on. The movie's smart while not quite being smart enough, funny without being funny enough, and bleak without being sad enough to really make you feel anything.
Of course, there's plenty of puppet sex if that's your thing. It's my thing, so you don't have to be ashamed to admit it if it's yours, too. This blog is a safe place. The sex scene in this is almost touching, but it felt endless to me. But who am I to argue with full frontal puppet nudity. And yes, I'm aware that Full Frontal Puppet Nudity would make a great band name.
It's entirely possible that I would like this a lot better if I watched it again. In a way, I feel like I grasped things too easily with this one which might mean that I failed to grasp a lot of its finer details or discover its hidden secrets. So maybe I'll give it another go sometime.