Pasatiempo - - ON THE COVER -

ANO­MA­L­ISA, an­i­mated fea­ture, rated R, Vi­o­let Crown, 3 chiles

In 2008, Dar­ren Aronof­sky’s The Wrestler, a much more re­strained film than his pre­vi­ous ef­forts, took fans by sur­prise. Ano­ma­l­isa (co-di­rected by Duke John­son and Char­lie Kauf­man) might do the same for ad­mir­ers of Kauf­man’s films. The adult-themed an­i­mated fea­ture does away with the mind-bend­ing plot twists and turns of his ear­lier works, like Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot­less Mind, and tells a mov­ing, tragic, and sub­dued story that is the most straight­for­ward film Kauf­man has done. Or is it? An odd thing about Ano­ma­l­isa is that from the start, you know you’re watch­ing stop-mo­tion an­i­mated pup­pets and not real peo­ple — but the char­ac­ters feel au­then­tic, and some very ten­der and hon­est de­pic­tions of peo­ple trapped in lives de­void of mean­ing and pas­sion are de­picted here. One senses a quiet des­per­a­tion un­der all the char­ac­ters say and do.

The film takes place over the course of a sin­gle night in a Mid­west­ern ho­tel. Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewliss) is the au­thor of a pop­u­lar book on cus­tomer ser­vice. He is in town for a con­fer­ence, where he plans on de­liv­er­ing a talk on his book. Stay­ing on the same ho­tel floor is Lisa Hes­sel­man (voiced by Jen­nifer Ja­son Leigh), a shy, unas­sum­ing young woman who has come to at­tend Stone’s talk. We get glimpses into Stone’s un­sat­is­fy­ing home life dur­ing his phone calls home to his wife. His world is dull and mo­not­o­nous. Ev­ery­one he meets, male or fe­male, speaks with the same male voice (that of ac­tor Tom Noo­nan), un­til he meets Lisa. They fum­ble through an awk­ward and brief but in­ti­mate af­fair, and one senses that this is the first time ei­ther char­ac­ter has taken such a risk. For a mo­ment, the char­ac­ters find bliss, but this is not a love story. Their short time to­gether is, for the char­ac­ters, out of the or­di­nary. It’s an anom­aly, and the film’s ti­tle it­self is a com­bi­na­tion of “anom­aly” and “Lisa.” A night­mare sce­nario over­whelms Stone as his sub­con­scious presents him with dreams of los­ing Lisa, who he’s just met. The char­ac­ters seem to in­stinc­tu­ally know that this re­la­tion­ship can’t last and, in a mas­ter­stroke, Kauf­man has them plan­ning their fu­ture to­gether while si­mul­ta­ne­ously get­ting on each other’s nerves; the hon­ey­moon, it seems, is al­ready over.

The nov­elty of the in­cred­i­ble stop-mo­tion pup­petry wears off quickly as the story takes over. Its emo­tional im­pact is Ano­ma­l­isa’s great­est re­ward, and many peo­ple may see them­selves re­flected in the Ev­ery­man rep­re­sented by Stone. What he en­coun­ters in the ho­tel room is the an­tithe­sis of his mun­dane home life, a point driven home in the film’s dev­as­tat­ing fi­nal mo­ments. That one of the most emo­tion­ally rich dra­mas of the sea­son is an an­i­mated fea­ture is also some­thing of an anom­aly. The mul­ti­lay­ered mean­ings that mark much of Kauf­man’s work are not in the plot, this time, but in the de­tails. — Michael Abatemarco

Heart­felt an­i­ma­tion

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