2015 animation for adults

Rating: 14/20

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.


cory said...

You are right about this being a giant downer of a movie. The main character could have been more sympathetic, which would have helped immensely, but instead he comes off as totally selfish and insensitive to what anyone else is feeling. The ending reinforced how inexcusable and irredeemable his behavior is, especially with regard to his son. The mistake is that this serves to weaken the point of the film, or what the film should be focusing on.

The moment early on that I realized all of the other characters were speaking with the same voice, I got a thrill of revelation. I thought it was a great way to illustrate something everyone deals with...that relationships and the path of our lives can become boring and repetitive. If the main character had taken any of the blame for this or had tried to overcome the issue, then the audience might have been able to relate to him more and pull for him. Instead, he just sees flaws in others and blames the world. He is childish, and there is no reason given or understanding of what makes the girl's voice special.

There was a nugget of greatness to "Anomalisa" that gets buried by the novelty of the animation and the unnecessarily explicite...very explicite and creepy...scene you referenced. If this cold film is meant to be an expression of how Kaufman feels about the world, then it only makes me like him a little less. A 13.

Shane said...

Right, I definitely agree with the selfishness or insensitivity (and that "childish" quality) really taking away from things. That character was just too unlikable.

I have a friend I've never met who liked this a little more than us but admitted he wouldn't have liked it nearly as much if it wasn't puppets. I do see that as a novelty, but it also really could have contributed to the themes. I guess I just didn't think it delivered the themes in a way that really meant anything, so it was kind of a wasted opportunity.

I was really surprised I didn't like this one a ton more. I was really looking forward to it.

Josh said...

I'm definitely with Cory up there when he says the protagonist was just too unrelateable and unlikable. I still need to gather my thoughts before I say much more about it (or we can shoot the breeze during a passing period), but I will say there was a line that resonated and that I think may explain the ending. When having a quick, awkward breakfast with Anamolisa the morning after, he says, "or maybe there is no lesson to be learned...which is a lesson in and of itself."

Shane said...

If I even come back!