(2016) Opening with a dark screen and cacophony of voices with laughter, the weirdly fascinating stop-action puppet-animated (R-rated) romantic dramedy, co-directed by Charlie Kaufman, who co-wrote the screenplay based on his stage play, and Duke Johnson, revolves around existential anxieties, employing strikingly realistic surrounding sounds and visual details. On the flight from his home in LA to Cincinnati in September 2005, British author Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) rereads a letter of anger and disillusionment of the breakup from his former girlfriend written in 1996.
In the taxi to the hotel, the cabbie (voiced by Tom Noonan) recommends to his passenger checking out the city during his stay (just one day), especially the zoo and chili served on pasta. Checking into the Fregoli Hotel, Michael and his luggage are taken by Dennis (voiced by Tom Noonan) the bellhop to room (smoking permitted) 1007. (The name of the hotel reinforces the impression that Michael has a rare disorder, the Fregoli delusion, or the delusion of doubles, in which he perceives other people as all being another person.)
Michael performs the obligatory urination into the toilet before calling room service to order a meal. Waiting, he calls his wife Donna (voiced by Tom Noonan) and son Henry (voiced by Tom Noonan). He lights a cigarette, looks out the window (noticing a man masturbating), and practices his presentation on customer service for the conference the next day: "What is it and why?"
In the corridor as he goes for a bucket of ice, Michael passes a couple exchanging hostile insults. Back inside the room (having had difficulty with the cardkey opening the door), he finds in the phone directory a listing for Bella Amarossi (voiced by Tom Noonan), his former girlfriend; he calls her: "I've missed you…. I do think about you a lot." She's taken aback, not having heard from Michael in eleven years: "And you just call? Out of nowhere."
Revealing that he's married with a kid, Michael says of his life: "Everything's boring." She accepts his offer of meeting him in the hotel's bar for a drink, showing up emotionally insecure (so hurt from the breakup that "I didn't get out of bed for a year"), distraught, telling him apologetically she works as a graphics designer for the state department, involving STDs and teen pregnancies: "Boss is a dick." When he suggests they go up to his room for a more private colloquy, feeling "bloody lonely," she departs in disgust.
From the cabbie's earlier directions, Michael goes to Dino's Toys, an outlet open 24 hours, to purchase a gift for Henry only to discover the shop sells sex toys; he buys a strange ("quite unusual") antique Japanese automaton. After showering, he notices something queer about his face before racing from the room into the hallway where he begins knocking on different doors "looking for a friend."
By happenstance, when he bangs on the fourth or fifth door, Emily (voiced by Tom Noonan) answers, immediately recognizing him, as does her roommate Lisa Hesselman (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), from his photograph on the book jacket of How May I Help You Help Them; the pair of team leaders in a phone room for Tessman Foods, friends since junior high school, have driven to Cincinnati from Akron to attend the conference where Stone is to speak.
"We've read your book, and productivity went up 90 percent in our department," gushes Lisa: "You're so smart!" Michael expresses genuine astonishment to Lisa: "You have a miraculous voice." Inviting the ecstatic ladies to join him for drinks in the bar, Michael can't get enough of hearing Lisa speak - though she has a habit of reminding herself, "Shut up, Lisa" - listening to them tell of having splurged like on a vacation for this trip, enjoying hiking and biking and movies in addition to drinking, and Lisa's playing a Jew's harp.
On the way back to their rooms, everyone somewhat tipsy, Michael awkwardly asks if Lisa would care to join him in his room for a nightcap. "Most people like Emily," perplexed, Lisa abashedly attempts to deflect his attention from herself standing beside Emily. After Emily, who had been hanging onto Michael's arm in the elevator, remarks on Michael's handsome features and wishes her a good time, Lisa accompanies Michael into his room where she meekly disparages herself, drawing attention to her lack of education and ugliness.
"I think you're lovely," says Michael, who notices a nasty scar beside her right eye (she tries to hide it with a drape of hair): "May I kiss you there?" Uncomfortable, worried she may be with a pervert, Lisa declines to satisfy his interest: "I don't like to talk about it." "I think you're extraordinary," Michael continues extolling her: "Your voice, it's like magic."
Mentioning her appreciation of pop singer Cyndi Lauper, Lisa agrees after Michael's repeatedly requesting to sing "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." Weeping and praising her vocals as "beautiful," Michael urges: "Keep talking."
In commenting on how Portuguese is sung and spoken only in Brazil in South America, Lisa says: "It's an anomaly, right? I learned that word in your book. I like that word. Anomaly. I like the way it sounds and what it means. I feel like an anomaly. Before I used to know there was a word for it, it made me feel bad to be different. Now I kind of like it. Sometimes."
Admitting she does feel special, Lisa embraces Michael's minting for her a new appellation, Anomalisa. Before she willingly goes to bed with Michael, she confesses that she hasn't been intimate with anyone for eight years, not since an overweight married man with kids in her department pursued her. (Though not unappealing, Stone is late-middle-aged, graying with a slightly flabby gut, married with a child; Lisa is thirtyish.) "I don't want to lose you," says Michael sincerely.
A phone call early in the morning wakes Michael, a request from the hotel manager Lawrence Gill (voiced by Tom Noonan along with everyone else) to meet in his office immediately concerning a matter of some "delicacy". The enormous office is in the basement; a golf cart provided traverses the distance to Mr Gill's desk.
With some obvious embarrassment, making reference to Stone's philandering with a guest during the night, Mr Gill protests his own affection, "I love you," along with everyone else's, offering anyone from his secretarial pool for lovemaking: "Just not Lisa." Going back to his room in a panic, Michael tells Lisa: "They don't want us to be together. I think they'll kill you if they need to."
He insists they leave together in haste: "They're all one person, and they love me. Everyone is one person, but you and me. You're the only other person in the world!... Finally I've found you." He wakes from a sweaty nightmare, proposes during breakfast (her talking with her mouth full irritates him) their living together for the rest of their lives, until back in the room he begins to notice a change taking place in her voice.
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