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Michael and Lisa lie on a hotel bed during a brief encounter in Anomalisa.

It so happens that this week’s Film page features two movies that played at last November’s Lone Star Film Festival. Carol was the main attraction there, but the closing selection was Anomalisa, a stop-motion animated film with a whole other approach to romance from Todd Haynes’ film. I must admit that this movie’s depressive brilliance remains a closed book to me, but it is nevertheless remarkable in many ways.

The main character is Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a middle-aged British émigré who lives in L.A. in 2005 and works as a corporate consultant and is the author of a bestselling business self-help book. Michael is in Cincinnati for one day on business, and his depression is ingeniously illustrated by the fact that all the other characters save one have the exact same voice (Tom Noonan’s) and face, including Michael’s wife, his unstable ex-girlfriend, his young son, the airline pilot, an oblivious cabdriver, and even the actors in the 1936 movie My Man Godfrey, which plays on a TV in his hotel room. Most of this takes place in the Fregoli Hotel, a fictitious establishment that takes its name from the Fregoli delusion, the mistaken belief that everyone is wearing a mask. Writer/co-director Charlie Kaufman adapted this from a live-action stage play he wrote 10 years ago under the pseudonym “Francis Fregoli,” which starred the same actors.

The setup goes on for long enough that any female voice would be welcome relief from the overbearing maleness. However, when Michael meets a woman named Lisa who has a facial scar and a different voice (Jennifer Jason Leigh’s), he falls hard for her, partly because he seems to be the type of man who’s drawn to damaged, lonely women. Even so, Leigh gives her and the entire film a luminescence that’s quite affecting. Playing a woman with near-zero levels of self-esteem, she’s so good that you can hardly believe this is the same actress tearing it up in The Hateful Eight. There’s a scene in Michael’s room where Lisa finally loses her self-consciousness, closes her eyes, and sings a quiet version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” and it’s so spellbinding that you understand why Michael wants her. The talky and believably awkward sex scene that follows is the most realistic sex scene I saw in movies all year, quite an achievement for an animated film.

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The movie’s lurches into nightmare territory (like the sequence where Michael is chased through the hotel by dozens of lovelorn women and men) don’t quite work. Michael himself is kind of a drag, too, and not just because he’s depressed. His remaining stuck in his old cycle does make a perfect kind of sense, though, and ending the film with a newly serene Lisa riding in a car with brilliant sunshine streaming through her hair shows us where the film’s soul truly lies. Touches like that keep Anomalisa from becoming too drab and monotone, and they make it a unique thing to treasure.

[box_info]Anomalisa
Voices by David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan. Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson. Written by Charlie Kaufman, based on his own play. Rated R.[/box_info]

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