Anomalisa | Film review - Charlie Kaufman's surreal puppet show is a small-scale masterpiece

Anomalisa David Thewlis Jennifer Jason Leigh
David Thewlis voices Michael Stone, Jennifer Jason Leigh voices Lisa Hesselman (Image credit: Photo Paramount Pictures)

A surreal comedy-drama about the human condition acted out by stop-motion puppets - Anomalisa is Charlie Kaufman's masterpiece.

David Thewlis voices Michael Stone, Jennifer Jason Leigh voices Lisa Hesselman (Image credit: Photo Paramount Pictures)

With Anomalisa, screenwriter turned director Charlie Kaufman, the warped mind behind such oddball classics as Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has come up with his weirdest movie yet – a surreal comedy-drama about the human condition featuring stop-motion puppets.  It could well be his masterpiece.

Originally performed as a staged sound play in LA in 2005 with the same cast of three, Anomalisa revolves around David Thewlis’s burnt-out business guru, a motivational speaker who has flown into Cincinnati to deliver a convention pep talk. Totally lacking in pep himself, he is so alienated that everyone he meets appears exactly the same – indeed, every figure on screen save two has the same face and the voice of actor Tom Noonan – until he encounters Jennifer Jason Leigh’s vulnerable but sweet-natured phone sales rep and has a fling with her.

Co-directing with puppeteer Duke Johnson, Kaufman has produced a film that is ineffably strange and sad and funny. It’s partly a satire on the blandness of consumer culture, but it has even more to say about human yearnings and disappointments. They may only be puppets, the joins in their faces all too disconcertingly noticeable, but Thewlis’s Michael and Leigh’s Lisa are recognisably real in their desires and anxieties. Their sex scene might just be the most truthful Hollywood has ever produced.


Certificate 15. Runtime 90 mins. Directors Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson

Anomalisa is available on Blu-ray & DVD, courtesy of Artificial Eye.


Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.