Out March 11 / Cert. 15 / 90 Mins.

Empire (UK) - - IN CINEMAS - Ian Freer

Di­rec­tors Char­lie Kauf­man, Duke John­son cast (voices) David thewlis, Jen­nifer Ja­son Leigh, tom Noo­nan

Plot Mo­ti­va­tional speaker Michael Stone (Thewlis) checks into a Cincin­nati ho­tel. Af­ter his busi­ness-trip rit­u­als and a heated run-in with an ex, his half-drunk en­nui in­creases. En­ter Leigh’s Lisa.

There are 1,070 “spe­cial thanks” cred­its at the end of Ano­ma­l­isa. Char­lie Kauf­man and Duke John­son’s min­i­mas­ter­piece started life as a one-act Kauf­man en­try in a Carter Bur­well sound-play ex­per­i­ment (what­ever that is) and it took Kick­starter to get it to the screen. hap­pily, Ano­ma­l­isa has made all those other Kick­starter re­quests bear­able. It is a mi­nor mir­a­cle of a movie, the most beau­ti­ful, haunt­ing, em­pa­thetic, ten­der, funny 90 min­utes of the year so far. Whether those 1,070 peo­ple do­nated a lot or a lit­tle, thank you.

On pa­per, it doesn’t sound hope­ful. This is a stop-mo­tion char­ac­ter study of Michael Stone, a de­mo­ti­vated mo­ti­va­tional speaker voiced by David Thewlis on a go-slow. It gets weirder. The pup­pets have clip-on faces (you can see the joins) with pudgy bod­ies (hid­den by baggy clothes) and fuzzy skin. The only other ac­tors are Jen­nifer Ja­son Leigh and Tom Noo­nan. The lat­ter voices pretty much all of the char­ac­ters, be it cabby, wife, dumped ex-girl­friend or bell­hop. This is be­cause Michael’s jaun­diced world­view means ev­ery­one sounds very much the same as any­one else.

But out of such un­promis­ing in­gre­di­ents Kauf­man and fel­low di­rec­tor Duke John­son (who was re­spon­si­ble for Com­mu­nity’s stop-mo­tion Christ­mas episode) wring melan­choly magic. af­ter a minutely ob­served, dark de­pic­tion of air­craft and taxi chit-chat, bleak ho­tel down­time and a failed at­tempt to reignite re­la­tions with an old flame, there is light. Michael meets Lisa (Leigh), a groupie at­tend­ing his talk, and boom! The pair forge a con­nec­tion. Lisa’s light­ness lifts Michael from his de­spair and the pair con­nect over their in­se­cu­ri­ties and missed op­por­tu­ni­ties. There is pup­pet sex — hap­pily at the other end of the scale from the ridicu­lous vi­sion in Team America — and there is singing: Lisa’s heart-break­ing ren­di­tion of Cyndi Lau­per’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun will leave you in pieces.

as you’d ex­pect from Kauf­man, the writ­ing de­liv­ers flawed, lonely peo­ple who you des­per­ately hope will find hap­pi­ness to­gether. as Michael and Lisa’s re­la­tion­ship crescen­dos, the film en­ters a Be­ing John Malkovich zone of mad­ness. That Michael has checked into the Fre­goli ho­tel is per­ti­nent here: the ‘Fre­goli delu­sion’ is a para­noid disor­der where the suf­ferer be­lieves dif­fer­ent peo­ple are ac­tu­ally one sin­gle per­son out to get them but as­sum­ing mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties.

You’d be right to ex­pect that, given Kauf­man’s his­tory of sur­real twists and un­likely sto­ry­telling, it isn’t likely to end well or in any sort of ob­vi­ous man­ner (an an­cient Ja­panese sex toy is in­volved). But what stays with you isn’t the pup­petry or point-mak­ing about the cor­ro­sion of in­di­vid­u­al­ity in the mod­ern world. In­stead it’s the poignant con­sid­er­a­tion of just how frag­ile we all are.

Ver­dict Ano­ma­l­isa has more heart, soul and pathos than 99.9 per cent of live-ac­tion movies. The best ho­tel-set love story since Lost In Trans­la­tion.

rodney Trot­ter was hav­ing sec­ond thoughts about this Wallace & Gromit cameo.

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