To call screenwriter/director Charlie Kaufman a non-conformist is to misuse the word. It’s a vast understatement. He’s more the type to twist and mangle cinematic norms and stand them on their head before kicking them out the door entirely. Formula has no place here.

charlie-kaufmanAudiences have come to expect something thought-provoking and possibly unsettling from the man who said of himself, “I don’t know what the hell a third act is.” Having won multiple awards for Eternal Sunshine The Spotless Mind – including an Oscar – and permanently blowing minds with Being John Malkovich, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, and Adaptation, ‘normal’ is not a word we can associate with his body of work.

In his latest film, a motivational speaker is in need of motivation himself, not on the job but in the business of life. Anomalisa is a vivid depiction of depression and a kind of Brief Encounter using puppets.

The stop-motion animated drama begins with a plane touching down in Cincinnati, disgorging among its passengers Michael Stone (David Thewlis). In town for a lecture, he is downcast to discover that Cincinnati is just like every place else: Everyone around him looks and sounds alike. Even Bella, the old girlfriend he invites out for a drink has the same look and the same flat voice. Then he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a shy customer-service rep in town to hear his speech. Her voice is like music, and Michael finds her vulnerability appealing. Does she represent a new beginning or only a temporary lifting of the dark cloud that envelops him?

Both the puppets and the animation are crude, which only makes the ultimate poignancy that much more remarkable. As two lonely people forging a tentative connection, the leads’ vocal work is outstanding in this melancholy exploration of existential despair that is leavened by playful humor.

This is a movie you’ll be thinking about for years.