In the world of professional screenwriting, it takes quite a lot to become a household name. Very few writers have the honour of a devoted fan base who will actively hunger for their latest project. Charlie Kaufman has the distinct honour of being one of those writers. First making himself known back in 1999 after scripting Spike Jonze’s Oscar-nominated Being John Malkovich, he received his second Oscar nomination in 2002 for Jonze’s Adaptation. It wasn’t until 2004 that he won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, this time for Michel Gondry’s melancholy and wildly popular Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. By that point, Kaufman’s name was synonymous with highly innovative, groundbreaking cerebral writing - the sort that garnered something of a cult following.
By 2008, Kaufman wanted to take on the role of writer and director. The result was Synecdoche, New York, a lengthy examination of a troubled playwright whose work begins to create its own universe. Die-hard fans loved it, many critics had nice things to say, but the majority of the movie going public wasn’t interested: the film cost a reported $20m and grossed a paltry $3m. Kaufman seemed to disappear from the limelight and by his own account, wrote a currently unproduced script that dealt with the concept of “internet anger”.
Since that time, internet message boards have bulged with no small amount of what’s-he-going-to-do-next buzz. Beginning earlier this fall, some of us were lucky enough to see exactly what he’s done next – Anomalisa. Today, the rest of the world gets its chance to have a look at the film’s first official trailer. It’s the second outing for Charlie Kaufman as both writer and director (though this time around he’s sharing directing duties with Duke Johnson (Community)). The trailer is well worth a look - deep philosophical questions abound as puppets go through the daily motions and interactions of being human. We’ve seen these movements and emotions before and yet in this context they seem to take on a strangely distant yet familiar feel.
The passion project of Kaufman and Johnson, nearly half a million dollars of Anomalisa’s $8m budget was brought in from a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign back in 2012-2013. The film focuses on the humdrum life of motivational author and family man Michael Stone (David Thewlis) as he checks into a Cincinnati hotel in advance of a speaking slot at a customer service convention. While at the hotel he encounters Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a baked good sales rep who unwittingly steals his heart and makes him rethink his entire take on life.
Anomalisa only has two main characters and actor Tom Noonan (Damages) is credited as being the voice of “everyone else”. Written solely by Kaufman, the stop-motion film has been a hit on the festival circuit thus far, winning the grand jury prize at this year’s Venice Film Festival and receiving much critical acclaim at Telluride and Toronto festival screenings. Anomalisa existed solely as a stage play in 2005, as part of composer Carter Burwell’s Theatre of The Ear “sound play series”, featuring the same three actors who currently make up the film’s entire cast.
The puppetry on display in the trailer looks wonderfully engaging – translating emotion into a silicone doll is no easy task and the mere fact that Kaufman and Johnson have pulled it off makes this film worth a look. Anyone who’s ever seen a Kaufman film knows that he isn’t the least bit concerned with making films for the masses. His is a very niche demographic, and he’s gone on record as stating that he has no interest in writing the sort of big studio films that are Hollywood’s typical bread and butter. This is precisely what makes Kaufman an important talent – toiling away on the fringes, he emerges every few years with something new to challenge his audiences with.
This time around, he may have struck gold; though Anomalisa won’t give the superhero and CGI epics a run for their money, it could very well collect some Oscars come February.
Anomalisa begins an Oscar-qualifying limited theatrical run in the U.S. on December 30th, 2015.
Source: Paramount Pictures