A Charlie Kaufman stop-motion film about a depressed motivational speaker does not a typical Paramount Pictures film make. But, then again, not much that Charlie Kaufman — the mind behind films such as Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and now Anomalisa — does is typical. I suppose that's why his status as the enigmatic, emotional yet cerebral, cult film writer has remained, even though he's been out of the picture since 2008. The newest project he's written — and directed alongside Duke Johnson — proves to be nothing short of pure Kaufman gold. Anomalisa follows the story of a motivational speaker (David Thewlis) who meets and falls in love with a woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Seems simple and focused, but the slow, dreamlike nature of the Anomalisa trailer might surprise you. So will the humanity of it, considering, of course, that the film's made with puppets.
After Kaufman made his debut with the 1999 film Being John Malkovich, which received Oscar accolades, he was nominated again for 2002's Adaptation, and eventually won Best Screenplay in 2004 for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Though it seemed he was on a roll in the late 90's and early '00s, we haven't seen much from Kaufman's brilliant, quirky mind since 2008. Anomalisa is Kaufman's second attempt at being the writer and director behind one of his films, so it's safe to say that all eyes are on Kaufman for this new piece of work. And, according to the rave reviews the film has been receiving since it first premiered within the festival circuit, Anomalisa might be one of Kaufman's most compelling films, if not his best one yet.
There's always something unsettling about a Kaufman film, whether it involves memory erasure (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), a portal into the brain of an actor (Being John Malkovich), or identical twin screenwriters — one of which was named after Charlie Kaufman himself — obsessing over a screenplay (Adaptation). It's a wild word out there for Kaufman lovers, and, by comparison, Anomalisa might appear, well, mundane. What looks to be a bit overdone (the story about a depressed man falling in love) quickly becomes new territory when you realize that the film's full of puppets, and that there are only three voice actors in the whole thing. A film about humanity and depression against the backdrop of stop motion puppets? Sounds exactly like the kind of thing Kaufman would do (and do well, might I add).
This isn't new, however. Kaufman's previous works always revolve around the idea of ennui, monotony and overall melancholy of life, and they always throw in an unconventional twist. Kaufman, never one to shy away from oddities and eccentricity, has been open about his non-desire to be a studio film director, and his non-desire to fit the mold. "The economy changed in 2008 and big studio movies became the thing. I don’t write those," he told The Guardian in September. He doesn't. And thank goodness for that. Thank goodness that we're still able to witness Kaufman try new things, in a film world overcome by the comic book universe, plagued by sequels and remakes.
But, for Kaufman, this "weirdness," this commitment to doing something outside of the box, isn't hollow. "I’m not interested in doing anything weird for weird’s sake. I think about telling stories subjectively, because I think that’s the way life is lived." Fittingly, the trailer opens with a voiceover asking something in the same vein: "What is it to be human? What is it to ache?" If anyone were to be able to answer that question, rest assured it would be Kaufman.
Watch the trailer below and catch the film when it hits theaters December 30, 2015.
Images: Paramount Pictures; Movieclips Trailers/YouTube (2)