Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa has animated the Venice competition. Originally written by Kaufman as a play in 2005, the two directors have brought the original stage cast back together in this witty and tender stop-motion animation feature funded through Kickstarter.

The film opens up in the air, fluffy clouds all around and a plane in the distance. Looking out at the view is Michael Stone (David Thewlis), a customer service guru. He’s on his way to Cincinatti for a conference, promoting his book How May I Help You Help Them? We hear lots of voices around him on the flight, all of them sharing the same voice (Tom Noonan). As the plane reaches its destination, Michael shakes a single pill from his medicine bottle.

We meet an asthmatic cab driver offering top tips on Cincinatti highlights – which crop up again – as well as the concierge and bellhop of the hotel, all of them voiced by Noonan and all them having the same physiognomy with minor variations. There are intriguing animation choices: we can see seams connecting the puppets’ faces. Animators normally cover these seams to create more life-like appearances but Kaufman and Johnson show the connections, which recall Ava in Ex Machina.


As we watch the characters go through the motions, dealing with various social situations, we could also view those seams as cracks in a mask, the veneer precariously close to crumbling.

Michael is staying at the Fregoli Hotel and is a reference to the Fregoli delusion, whose sufferers believe that everyone is the same person. For Michael all the people around him are one and the same, even those he purportedly loves or loved – his wife, his son, his ex. When he’s walking down the hotel corridor and hears a new voice, he heads excitedly in search of its owner.

The voice belongs to Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), in town with her friend Emily for the conference. Thus begins a charmingly rendered love story with one of the most intimate sex scenes to boot. There’s a beautiful moment when he asks her to sing and she gives a rendition of her favourite singer’s most famous song. Will this romance last? Lisa is aware that it could be no more than a one-night stand but Michael is smitten and ready to start a new life with this refreshingly new voice. But how long before her voice gets old?


This is a tender and witty film on a smaller and more intimate scale than Kaufman’s previous directorial forays, but it shares many characteristics familiar to his fans. The film maintains much of its theatrical origins, but the animation creates new perspectives, particularly for Noonan’s characters who are constantly up against Michael, a man who views himself as an individual island in a sea of anonymity.

We completely believe in the fuzzy puppets as rounded human characters thanks to the wonderful voice talents of the three actors and Kaufman’s great writing. This is a seriously intelligent film about the existential (or mid-life) crisis of a seriously single man.