What planet was Charlie Kaufman on when he wrote Anomalisa? Planet sexist?
Perhaps you’ve seen it? It’s been out a while and received many accolades and awards.
“The most human movie of the year…” said Matt Patches from Esquire magazine. “Anomalisa changed my life,” began the effusive review by Drew McWeeny at HitFlix.
Not everyone agreed. There was some backlash, as the main character has an adulteress affair with not even a “Will I?” or “Won’t I?”
But that’s not why I found this film shocking.
No doubt its many fans will disagree, but perhaps they’d like to see it through my eyes?
Michael Stone, an emotionally disconnected and taciturn middle-aged man goes to the Fregoli Hotel in Cincinnati to speak at a customer service conference about his book. The Fregoli is named after a psychiatric disorder where the sufferer thinks everyone else in the world is the same except him.
As a symptom of this, everyone he meets speaks with the same male voice (voiced by Tom Noonan), even Bella, his jilted girlfriend of a decade ago – whom we first meet as an accusing voice in his head (“Fuck you! Fuck! Fuck!”)
At the hotel, his wife Donna calls and tells him she is premenstrual. They have a perfunctory conversation. This is followed by more accusations from Bella, the bitch in his head, which prompts the lonely and guilty Michael to give her a call to see how she’s doing after all these years.
Bella is stunned, sceptical, shaken and apologetic at his suggestion that they meet for a drink. She has just come out of a “stupid relationship with a psycho” and doesn’t want to burden him: “I’m not sure you want to be the victim to my current emotional imbalance tonight.” (Maybe she’s pre-menstrual too?)
Michael tells her there’s something wrong with him, but Bella still agrees to meet. Just in case he’s disappointed, she apologises for the fact that she’s gained some weight and now has a fake tooth: “Just so you don’t look at me like freaked out or anything.” Presumably Michael has aged too, but who cares? He’s a man.
“Do I look bad?”
Bella orders the same drink as Michael and apologises for her job (designing pamphlets), then asks for reassurance about her looks: “Do I look bad? I look bad, don’t I?” He obliges: “You look good”.
Bella tells him that she was so messed up when he left her all those years ago, she didn’t get out of bed for a year. But all he wants to know is whether the relationship changed her. This freaks her out, so he invites her up to his room for a drink, which freaks her out more, so she leaves.
He goes back upstairs and takes a shower and hears the voice of a woman passing his door. What an anomaly! A woman’s voice! He goes looking for her, knocking on doors claiming he is looking for his friend.
He is a greeted by the woman in question (Lisa, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who immediately recognises him as the famous Michael Stone – and apologises for her looks: “Oh, do I look awful? I was just taking my make-up off. Don’t look at me!”
Her roommate, Emily, joins her. She is equally bowled over. “You can look at me!” she says coquettishly.
They have come to Cincinnati just to hear him speak and are overwhelmed by his presence, especially Lisa, who continues to want to avoid his Godly gaze: “Oh God, please don’t look at me.”
“I’m so dumb”
But she can’t take her eyes off him. “We think you’re super brilliant,” she gushes. “You’re so smart, I’m not sure I should even say words in front of you, because you’ll see how dumb I am.” Emily tells her to shut up. Four times in the scene.
These “lovely customer service ladies” can’t really afford such a swish hotel. “We’re only customer service reps, so you can imagine our salaries.” But now, in the presence of the great Michael, they agree that the expense is totally worth it.
They are beside themselves with glee at his invitation to have a drink with them. As they drink apple mojitos, they tell him about their interests: hiking, biking, reading, going to the movies and playing Scrabble, strip poker and the Jew’s harp.
After the drink, Lisa, can’t resist pressing all the buttons in the lift, like a child. “Is it stupid to like to press buttons?” she asks. This totally presses Michael’s buttons, and, apologising to Emily for not choosing her, he invites Lisa up to his room. (Woo! Woo!)
Lisa can’t believe her luck. “Are you sure you don’t mean, Emily? Everyone always likes Emily better?”
It turns out Lisa has a scar on her neck, which explains her self-deprecating manner. “People don’t like to look at me much.” Michael offers to kiss it. (Awww!! But hang on, what about his wife and kid?)
Once again, Lisa can’t believe her luck. Is he sure he wants to be with her? After all, she’s ugly and dumb: “I mean, I’m not smart like Emily. And I’m ugly. You’re a really smart guy. You should like Emily. I don’t even understand a lot of words in your book. I sat there with a dictionary. I try to learn. But I’m never going to be smart. And I’m ugly.”
But these are just the sorts of qualities that turn Michael on – along with her voice. He wants her to keep talking. It doesn’t matter what she’s saying, it’s just her voice. She’s extraordinary. He doesn’t know why. He asks her to sing. She sings Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.
They have sex, with him taking the lead and her apologising, after all it’s been eight years (she’s ugly, remember) and shy and the last guy was only with her because he knew he’d “have a shot”. “Which he did.” She comes with grateful gasps – in the missionary position (naturally).
Later, he has a bad dream – the world is against him and won’t let him be with Lisa. He lashes out in his sleep, accidentally hitting Lisa, who is appreciative: “Oh, it’s okay. I kind of liked it. It’s kind of intimate.”
Their whole relationship is such a blast that Michael decides it should be forever. His wife and son no longer exist, he tells Lisa, who immediately agrees to be with him: “Oh, gosh, okay. Yeah, let’s do it.” Presumably, anything’s better than Scrabble, strip poker and a boring job.
But at breakfast, Michael discovers that Lisa is hopelessly flawed after all, starting with her annoying habit of clicking her fork against her teeth. Naturally, she is apologetic: “Oh, sorry. People have told me that before. I know, it’s a stupid unconscious habit.”
Lisa wonders about the effect of a divorce on Michael’s son, Henry, to which Michael answers: “You’re being a little controlling, don’t you think?” For this, he receives more apologies: “I don’t mean to. I’m sorry.”
He’s a big man, so he forgives her, but will she please not talk with food hanging out of her mouth? “Oh, sorry,” Lisa says. “I’m a pig. Sorry.”
This, apparently, is just the relationship Lisa has been looking for: “I’m so happy, Michael. I’ve waited for someone like you my whole life.”
Michael gives his speech at the conference – a garbled mess of confessional comments about his psychological state, the state of the world and boring and obvious tips on customer service – and then goes home to his wife with a strange Japanese toy her bought at a sex shop (mistaken for a toy shop) for his son, and which, as his wife points out, emits semen. Perhaps Miss Japan will be the next ideal mate?
But hey, it was great..
Lisa writes him a lovely goodbye note. She doesn’t understand why he left but she accepts it and is grateful for the great time she had, and the cute nickname he gave her: Anomalisa
The film ends with Lisa’s wistful lament about longing for the voice of that special someone, while surrounded by the idle chatter of people who don’t get you.
And so real!
I am depressed.
I get it, Charlie. Michael’s having a nervous breakdown. He’s desperate for connection. Lisa lacks confidence and is desperate for connection. It’s about the futility of life, how we all wander the world in search of a soul mate – only to be disappointed by the flawed reality of our fellow human beings. Yada, yada, yada.
But does Lisa have to be quite so flawed?
Perhaps Lisa is a deliberately ridiculous male fantasy as a contrast to the banal reality of Michael’s squeezed-out relationship with his wife? I hope so.
I just wish that the celebrated Charlie Kaufman, whose movies are watched by millions, hadn’t perpetuated a whole bunch of stereotypes about women in the process.
What’s even more depressing is that none of the reviewers thought Lisa was anything other than delightfully real.