January 1, 2016 -- This is a profoundly sad tale of emptiness, loneliness and longing. A man on a business trip meets and old love, has a one night stand with another woman and goes home to his wife and child after a terrible nightmare, only to find his existence is just as bad as the nightmare.
Michael Stone is an author and lecturer in the hospitality industry who travels a lot. On an airliner, he lands in Cincinnati and takes a taxi to a swank hotel, engaging in small talk with the people he meets. He pulls a letter from his coat and reads its angry, profanity-laced comments directed at himself. It is a letter from his former lover, Bella, wanting to know why Michael left her years ago.
After calling his wife, Michael decides to call Bella, who lives in Cincinnati, even though it has been 11 years since he last spoke with her. She reluctantly agrees to meet him at his hotel. Although he seems happy to see her, she is still angry. She gets even angrier when he cannot explain why he left her in the first place. She storms out.
Michael then meets a couple of women who have come to the hotel to hear him speak the next day. Enchanted with the voice of Lisa, he invites her to his room, where she sweetly sings to him. She sings “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” a Cindy Lauper song. Michael and Lisa have sex and Michael declares his love for Lisa, saying he plans to leave his wife so he can live with her. Lisa agrees.
During the night, Michael has a horrible dream about a meeting with the hotel manager in which he feels trapped and everyone is conspiring against him. He wakes up in bed with Lisa, but he has changed. He begins to criticize her. Lisa's voice begins to change. She begins to sound just like everyone else.
Michael stumbles through his lecture at the hotel. Clearly he is in distress. His digressions into politics are booed by the crowd. His mind wanders. He says to the crowd, including Lisa, “I've lost my love. She's an unmoored ship drifting off to sea. And I have no one to talk to. I have no one to talk to. I have no one to talk to.”
As the film goes on, Michael becomes increasingly isolated, even when he is surrounded by friends and family, he is alone, and he has no one to talk to. He thought that Lisa, who he calls Anomalisa, was an anomaly in his lonely world. He thought she was different, but that's not the way it turns out. Michael has come to hear a boring sameness in everyone's voice.
This is a stop-motion animated film with curious-looking puppets. Their faces are made up of distinct pieces. In one scene, Michael's entire face comes off in a moment of distress. It almost comes off another time. He is literally falling apart. Most of the character voices sound the same, because most (including women's voices) are voiced by one man, Tom Noonan. Only Michael's voice (by David Thewlis) and Lisa's voice (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are different, and Lisa's voice also loses its unique quality at the end.
Except for Lisa's lovely singing, this is a very sad movie, the saddest I've seen in a while. It is a movie about lonely people, longing for love and friendship, who find only sadness and isolation. In most films, there would be a suicide in it somewhere. If there was one in this film, that might have made it a bit more upbeat. This film rates a B.
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