With each script, Charlie Kaufman, cinema's best psychoanalyst, has exaggerated his characters' impotence. In his newest, Anomalisa, he goes to the extreme by literally making them puppets. Anomalisa's stop–motion figurines' bellies sag and their testicles droop. And when our protagonist, a depressive salesman, pulls his skin-plates apart in the mirror, exposing the mechanics he shares with everyone else, he screams.
The plot is small, banal, anonymous: A businessman meets a woman in an Ohio hotel. It could be happening right now. In fact, if you scan the bar of the Hyatt Regency Cincinnati, it probably is. But even in just one night, so ordinary in its small indignities -- wonky keycards, awkward bellhops, drawn–out room–service orders, claustrophobia–inducing carpets -- Kaufman builds an emotional world we're nervous to enter, one we're already living in.
At first, nothing much happens. That man (named Michael Stone) endures a skittish airplane seat-mate and chatty cabbie, checks into his hotel and apathetically calls his family. The stop–motion minutiae is exact to the point that it teeters on the surreal, a perfectly hand–carved, wall–mounted hairdryer followed by a pictographic phone where he's stumped as to which button orders food. The hamburger? The roast chicken? The drumstick?
Of course, Kaufman's added a twist. Michael (David Thewlis) speaks with a British growl. But everyone else in his world -- his wife, his son, his concierge, his ex-girlfriend -- is voiced by the actor Tom Noonan. Noonan adjusts the volume of his speech, but otherwise sounds the same no matter who he's playing. This is how Michael, a commonplace narcissist, sees humanity. There's him, and then the mush of everyone else.