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Western Animation / Anomalisa

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What is it to be human?

Michael: I think you're extraordinary.
Lisa: ...Why?
Michael: I don't know yet. It's just obvious to me that you are.

Anomalisa is a 2015 Stop Motion-animated psychological dramedy film written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by him and Duke Johnson. It stars David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan. It was released by Paramount Pictures and Starburns Industries, and produced by Dan Harmon and Dino Stamatopoulos.

The film follows Michael Stone (Thewlis), a British best-selling self-help author who's in Cincinnati for a customer service conference. We quickly see that he is a very lonely man. Most importantly, he sees and hears everyone around him as the same generic white guy (all voiced by Noonan), even his wife and son. Upon arriving in his hotel, he tries to make a connection with an old flame, whom he insults and causes to storm off. With complete tedium, he suddenly hears a unique female voice belonging to a woman named Lisa (Leigh).

Anomalisa is notable for being the third R-rated animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award (after Waltz with Bashir and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut), and the first to be nominated for Best Animated Feature.

It's also unique in that Starburns Industries wanted to ensure its production outside of the Hollywood studio system, where they believed Executive Meddling would be inevitable, such that the film's budget was partially crowdfunded via Kickstarter. While it was initially pitched as a 40-minute short film, its $200,000 goal was ultimately doubled by backers, allowing for the securing of additional funding and the expansion of the film to a feature.

This film provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: This 2015 animated movie takes place in the year 2005.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Michael describes his inability to cry as being like "unable to cum," which causes someone in the audience to laugh.
  • An Aesop: Possibly, that you shouldn't rely on other people to make you happy. Be in charge of your own happiness.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: While eating breakfast with Lisa, Michael starts to get annoyed by her eating habits. Then she starts to suggest seeing the Cincinnati Zoo, at which point her voice begins to overlap with Tom Noonan's, until finally she's the same as everyone else.
  • Arc Words: "Try the chili!" and "See the zoo! It's zoo-sized!"
  • Bittersweet Ending: Michael ends up going back to his boring and depressing life where everyone, including his family, continues to look and sound the same to him because of his Fregoli delusion. Things look more positive for Lisa however, who writes a letter to Michael expressing hope that they'll meet again and even appearing more confident in herself.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Michael's son Henry. The moment Michael walks through the door at the end, Henry starts demanding the present he asked for.
    Donna: He gets right to the point.
  • Building of Adventure: The Fregoli hotel provides the backdrop for most of the plot.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: From his hotel window Michael observes a man in a neighboring building wanking off to stuff on his computer.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Bella's letter to Michael.
    "Dear Michael, fuck you! Just fuck you! You just walk away? After all you said to me? After all we did? After all those fucking promises? After all that fucking fucking?"
  • Crashing Dreams: Michael's nightmare ends with people knocking on the door and shouting "Michael, Michael" which is what Lisa shouts from her side of the bed when Michael comes to.
  • Creator Breakdown: In-universe. Michael completely breaks down while giving his conference speech.
  • Crossword Puzzle: In the opening, we hear two people doing a crossword puzzle on the plane. The clue is "Star of TV's Kojak" (Telly Savalas). One of them confuses the clue for Kolchak.
  • Day in the Life: The first half of the movie follows Michael around his day traveling to and getting settled into a Cincinnati hotel.
  • Daydream Surprise: Michael's paranoia-filled nightmare about meeting the hotel manager plays out as a real event until Lisa snaps Michael out of his sleep.
  • Dramatic Slip: Lisa slips in the hotel corridor when Michael pulls her away from Emily during the dream sequence.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Most of the story spans the night Michael arrives at Cincinnati until his conference speech the next day.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Michael doesn't seem to realize he bought his son a sex toy rather than an ordinary toy.
  • Feedback Rule: During his conference speech when Michael is on the brink of a nervous breakdown, the mic produces a feedback.
  • Leitmotif: Several times throughout the film we hear Michael whistle the Flower Duet from the opera "Lakmé".
  • Male Frontal Nudity: We see all of Michael when he exits the shower and drops his towel.
  • Meaningful Name: The hotel Michael stays at is called the Fregoli. The Fregoli Delusion is a rare syndrome in which the person believes that multiple people are the same person in disguise, which is what Michael does in seeing everyone as the same person.
  • Medium Awareness: A strange and disturbing example. After Michael gets out of the shower later in the film, he wipes down the mirror and begins daydreaming his face quickly shifting to different expressions to clicking noises. He then begins to start taking off his lower face, the crease of which is how the stop motion animators switch out the puppet's facial expressions. He quickly stops when someone knocks on his room door.
    • This gets played up later in the film during the nightmare sequence, where Michael accidentally knocks off the lower half of his face, revealing the snap-on components underneath that the animators would use to change facial expressions. He quickly puts it back on without even mentioning it.
  • Minimalist Cast: The film only has three actors. Tom Noonan has numerous speaking parts though.
  • Mistaken Nationality: After Michael says he's from England, his cab driver says he loves English stuff, like "across the pond," "cheerio," "the States," and "throw a shrimp on the barbie." The last one is from Australia.
  • Monochrome Casting: Invoked, due to Michael's Fregoli delusion.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer gives away a vibe that is completely OPPOSITE to what you get in the actual film, which may well be a deliberate decision, making the experience of watching the movie "disappointing" in a way that reflects the theme of the movie itself. Meta!
  • Nice Girl: Lisa.
  • One-Word Title: Anomalisa.
  • Only Six Faces: Invoked by the filmmakers. With the exception of the eponymous Lisa, to Michael everyone appears to be the same generic white guy (Tom Noonan) the only variation being different clothing and hairstyles.
  • Portmanteau: "Anomalisa" is a combination of Anomaly and Lisa.
  • Product Placement: Michael listens to "Flower Duet" on an original Apple iPod.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Michael delivers one in a vain attempt to establish any connection to the audience during his speech.
    "The world is falling apart! The President is a war criminal! America is going down the tubes and you're talking about goddamn intelligent design! They've intentionally destroyed the public education system because it's easier to manipulate dumb workers and soldiers!"
  • Secondary Character Title: Michael is the main character, but Lisa's name (or rather, the nickname Michael gives her) is the movie's title.
  • Sexbot: The Japanese sex toy that Michael buys is a very primitive version of this.
  • Shout-Out:
    • At the start of the film, the plane lands at 7:43pm. 7:43am is when Synecdoche, New York started, another Charlie Kaufman film.
    • Also, when Michael turns on the television, a stop-motion animation version of My Man Godfrey is on (with Noonan doing the voices for that as well).
  • Singing in the Shower: Michael hums the Lakmé tune under the shower.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Right in the middle.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: Michael lights himself a cigarette right after having sex with Lisa.
  • Stop Motion: The film was animated using stop-motion.
  • Take That!: Michael gives one about George W. Bush during his breakdown.
  • That Came Out Wrong: Lisa's shyness tends to make her invoke this type of response, playfully telling herself to "shut up, Lisa" whenever she feels she said something to embarrass herself in front of Michael. An example is when meeting Michael for the first time, Lisa excuses herself for her line "Is there anything we can do for you?" which she thinks could be taken the wrong way.
  • Title Drop: Upon seeing how Lisa is an "anomaly," Michael dubs her "Anomalisa."
  • Tragic Hero: Michael's condition keeps him from having a fulfilling relationship, be it with Bella, his wife or Lisa. He gets bored/fed up/stops feeling the same about them very quickly. That's why he is so unhappy. He is destined to be that way for good.
  • Voiceover Letter: Twice. In the beginning, we hear Bella voicing her letter that Michael reads on the plane. Happens again at the end. This time it is Lisa voicing out her letter to Michael.
  • Wham Shot: While Lisa is writing her letter at the end, we see Emily with her own face.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never see Michael's room service get delivered.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: This film is Lost in Translation from a male perspective with puppets. A married unhappy man on a business trip, staying in a hotel in a foreign country/city, meets a different girl for whom he falls in love. The tone and message of the two films are nothing alike though.