Directed by: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Written by: Charlie Kaufman
Cinematography by: Joe Passarelli
Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
An all too familiar melancholy cloud hangs over much of Anomalisa, a stop-motion tour de force exploring human loneliness as only its creator can. From Charlie Kaufman, the bleakly brilliant creative mind behind Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), and Synecdoche, New York (2008), comes the tale of Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a self-help author, best known for his book, How Can I Help You Help Them? on what appears to be yet another mundane stay at an out-of-town hotel. He’s there for a customer service conference, and he’s become a little bit of a celebrity, which I imagine isn’t hard in a world literally populated by one singular voice for all men, women, and children (Tom Noonan). Perhaps it has something to do with Fregoli–the hotel’s name, as well as the delusional disorder in which a person believes that everyone around them is the exact same person, just in different guises–or just the fact that deep down, what we see and expect out of this world is eerily similar and of no real value to us at all. That is, until Michael meets, or rather hears, Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), who’s mere presence is angelic to him, and leads him down a path of rediscovery; one filled with self-doubt, paranoia, and an intense fear of conformity in love.
The film takes some getting used to, with its animation style being almost photo-realistic yet still self-aware of its creation, right down to all the faces consisting of a distinct line that seemingly outlines itself as if it were an interchangeable mask. The real lingering aspect however, is Tom Noonan. who voices everyone from Michael’s wife and son, to the cab driver, and even a decades old ex-girlfriend, who Michael can’t seem to escape in the confines of the sprawling city of Cincinnati, where she still resides, and is very much still unhinged when she comes to meet him. Once nestled into that mindset, I found myself not even noticing. It became almost normal, like, of course everyone sounds the same, so when Lisa enters the picture, our ears perk up just as Michael’s. Like him, we’ve been waiting for anything even remotely different, and this voice is our salvation from the barrage of banality we’ve become accustom to. Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson (you may know him for his stop-motion Christmas episode of Community) perfectly reimagine every aspect of this forever on the move lifestyle. It’s disheartening to the point of depression, but we recognize it because it’s so routine. A passenger on the plane attempts to make small talk, divulging a rather personal quirk in the process, but we scoff at it because we’re seemingly beyond such a connection. The cab driver rambles on about how great the city and its sights are, and it annoys us because we couldn’t care less. The room service operator repeats the order three times to make sure he’s got it correct, but we stopped listening mere moments after we placed it. We find love and want nothing more than to hold onto it, but what we think is special in the moment is unable to compete against the mountain of moments we’ve built, and are now burdened by, because they’re ironically with people we don’t [want to] know anymore. Instead, our meaningful connections have resorted to (and been reserved for) late night sex and the desire for that feeling to never change. Any remote flaw in that practice is strenuous to deal with, and thus, not worth our time, and so we let everything of any real substance slip between our own self-created cracks.
David Thewlis’ Michael is heartbreaking precisely because his sense of loss and restlessness is all too common and painfully relateable. He doesn’t know what he wants until he has it, and then when he loses it, all he wants is for it to come back into his life, however fleetingly; that is until it does, but of course, it’s then lost again, because he couldn’t truly handle any semblance of it in the first place. It’s a performance that’s equal parts frustrating and flawless in its conveyance of modern day society. Nothing reconciles this more than when it comes time for him to give his big speech, and we get to watch him construct and deconstruct everything and everyone. Jennifer Jason Leigh, on the flip side, is somberly delightful to watch. She stumbles her way through meeting Michael with all the innocent charm of a fan, yet is beautifully self-deprecating when she can’t understand why Michael would choose her over her friend. She’s vulnerable yet eager, and the film rises to a different level when she’s around, in particular when she performs a quiet rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” that will make the fragile among us effortlessly fall in love. The last and only other actor left to praise is Tom Noonan, who has the the almost thankless job of literally being everyone else. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice the various inflections he gives different people, like the room service operator’s relentless optimism; Michael’s ex’s resounding bitterness; and Michael’s own son incessant pleading asking about what his father will get him. Noonan’s kind of the unsung hero, precisely because we need his work to be regulated to a the background for the others to shine, yet the background is the very place we fear we’re slowly retreating into ourselves.
Directed by: Todd Haynes
Written by: Phyllis Nagy
Cinematography by: Edward Lachman
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler
An adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, Todd Haynes’ Carol is a time capsule to a time when beauty not only lay, but often times stayed in the eyes of the beholder. To advance any further could mean alienation of the worst kind, causing many to live lies, and suffer the loss of loved ones who could never be openly acknowledged. When we first see Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara) in the film’s opening minutes, it’s from a distance, and we have no way of making any sense of their togetherness, let alone any relationship that might exist between them. It’s a masterful way to open the film (and it’s a scene that will replay later, this time, with all the context we lacked at the outset), as if to say, no one can really know what’s happening under the surface. To the outside world, here are two women sitting at a table together. They can be family, friends, or lovers, but no one can pinpoint that dynamic by just watching them in that moment. So when Carol gets up to leave when a man recognizes Therese, we see her face linger on Carol’s hand on her shoulder. It’s a painfully unspoken “Don’t go,” but what’s a woman to do? It’s a sign of the times. It’s a sign of society. It’s a sign of a love lost and found, never forgotten and forever remembered.
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are exceptional here. Both performances rely on a quiet subtlty, but on entirely different spectrums. Blanchett’s Carol is the mature woman who has seen her fair share of the world, and has already been harmed by it. Her marriage to her husband (Kyle Chandler) has fallen apart because of a past relationship with a friend (Sarah Paulson), and the intensity she brings to her relationship with Therese comes from a place of longing that’s been dormant for some time. On the flip side, Rooney plays Therese as a blank slate. She’s discovering this passion and acting on it, despite having a nice guy (Jack Lacey) waiting in the wings, and another (John Magaro) also falling for her Audrey Hepburn-like persona. She’s timid and vulnerable, yet not above ravaging the love that’s bestowed upon her; no doubt the perks of being young and in love. She lacks Carol’s experience, and perhaps that’s what hits the hardest when all is said and done.
No surprise the film is as effective as it is with the talent behind it. Todd Haynes returns to the era, as well as the aesthetic of one of his earlier works, Far From Heaven (2002), another drama about forbidden love, and the man captures the look of the 1950s so exceptionally well, that I’d say that film and now this one, are the best films of that decade never actually made in that decade. His attention to detail, and ability to craft the narrative using camera angles and colors is uncanny, to the point that we’re no longer merely watching for the plot to move from point A to B, but rather, we’re fully immersed in it on a sensory level unlike anything else. It’s a painting we can’t turn away from, and one that keeps adding layers upon layers to its already striking beauty. Credit there also goes to cinematographer, Edward Lachman, who consistently fills the grainy images with stunning picturesque frames. Phyllis Nagy’s screenplay, while sparse on dialogue, more than makes up for it with its restraint. This is a film of glances, and never has the imagery of staring into someone’s eyes been so perfectly encapsulating to the point of intoxication. Carol is tragically poignant at every turn, and we find ourselves holding our breath at every interaction between the two leads; not always out of apprehension, but because they’re slowly taking each other’s away, and we desperately want to hold on to that feeling a little while longer.