Anomalisa: Upended animation

Anomalisa, which deservedly earned an Oscar nomination as Best Animated Feature, is exactly what you’d expect from Charlie Kaufman, the Oscarnominated screenwriter of such eclectic fare as Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) – something completely unexpected.

Adapted from Kaufman’s stage play (written under the pseudonym “Francis Fregoli”) and co-directed by Kaufman and Duke Johnson, this is a funny, moving, weird and wonderful depiction of one man’s mid-life crisis, conveyed in stopmotion animation.

David Thewlis voices the central character of Michael Scott, an Englishman abroad. He now lives in Los Angeles with his wife and son, but while on a business trip to Cincinnati, where he’s to give a lecture inspired by his corporate self-help book, he looks up an old flame, drinks too much, and ponders his place in the universe in increasingly dismayed and confused fashion.

The film’s title is derived from the word “Anomaly” and the character of “Lisa” (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), whom Michael woos and wins after meeting her and her co-worker at the hotel where they’re staying. The other characters, male and female, are voiced by Tom Noonan (billed as “Everyone Else”), a quirky notion that quickly becomes one of the film’s more potent gags.

These characters smoke, swear, drink (Belvedere martini, dry, straight up, with a twist) and do other things one doesn’t often see in animated films. Anomalisa is not for the kiddies, but it is a treat for grown-ups. It’s not as brash or funky as the early features of Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic), and it sometimes recalls the soul-searching works of John Cassavetes (!), but it always provides a unique outlet for Kaufman’s distinctive sensibilities, with countless delightful asides, not a little pathos, and a dream sequence that’s an instant classic of comic paranoia.

Anomalisa is scheduled to open Friday