At last a film at the Venice Festival that may well become a classic of its genre - Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa. Stop motion animation was never this sophisticated, thanks to Kaufman's shrewd screenplay and Johnson's visual flair. This is a film you must see, even if animation in general is not your favourite form of the art of cinema. It addresses universal issues connected to ordinary people in an extraordinary way, and any resemblance to the complexities of Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman's critically applauded but popular failure of seven years ago, is purely incidental. This is the easiest of all Kaufman's projects to understand, and perhaps for that reason, just possibly the best.
The film's central character is an inspirational speaker who has written a popular tome about customer service. He is married with a child and flies from LA to Cincinnati for a single engagement. He treats himself to a five-star hotel with a king-sized bed and, having settled in rings the woman he rejected some ten years ago. She is totally upended by the contact since her heart was broken by the failed relationship. But she comes along to the hotel for a drink before storming out on reflecting anew about the emotional trauma he caused her. Finally, he picks up two girls, chooses one of them for a sexy night and seduces her in his luxurious bed. But it doesn't really work. His lecture next day is fractured and hesitant, and he goes back to his wife and child very little the wiser for his experiences.
Why does this comparatively banal story so good? It is difficult to put into words. But suffice to say that the tiny details of the tale seem so accurate and telling that its more major struts are brought out the better. This is a lonely, dissatisfied member of the human race whose marriage is fond but still a bit of a sham and whose son loves his dad largely because of the presents he brings back home with him. But if the hero of the film is male, the depiction of the women he meets is just as shrewd. Almost every word of the dialogue seems to come from personal experience - and, by the way, there is a sex scene in the film that goes some way beyond anything seen in animation beyond pornography. In short, this really seems like life as it is lived by relatively ordinary people, with all its hesitations, failures and embarrassments shown full on.
In the last few minutes Kaufman takes to some of his familiar philosophising about love and sex and the rock 'n' roll of life. But one can forgive him that since Anomalisa says it all in its previous hour and a half. Perhaps the film is really about loneliness and an increasingly distancing world where relationships are often impossibly difficult and life is fraught with disappointments. Whatever, the accuracy of its arrows is astonishing. They hit their mark nine times out of ten. I would defy any watcher, male or female, not to identify with the film somewhere or other. Anomalisa, which is an ad-mix of Anomaly and Lisa, the name of the girl who is seduced, is a movie the like of which I have never seen before. Which surprised me since I generally find Kaufman more of an irritation than inspiration. All that has changed now. If the jury don't give it a prize, they may be chased off the Lido.
One has to praise Johnson too for his part in the look of the film, which is great. And also David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the voices of the two leads. But that's enough of the enthusiasm. You can kill a movie just as easily with praise as you can with strictures. I wouldn't want to do that.