There looks to be another very artful Cincinnati-related movie, besides Carol, that is on important Best Films of 2015 lists, wins critics awards and even figures in Oscar nominations.
And it wouldn’t be Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead, which like Carol was predominately filmed in Cincinnati but set in New York. Sony Classics isn’t planning to release that Miles Davis biopic, which Cheadle directed and stars in, until April.
Rather, this is a film that is set in Cincinnati but wasn’t shot here because it’s an animated feature for adults that uses stop-motion puppets.
It’s called Anomalisa and was written and co-directed by the always-adventurous Charlie Kaufman, who wrote Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and also wrote and directed Synecdoche, New York. (The co-director is Duke Johnson.) Anomalisa started life as a 2005 play called Hope Leaves the Theater.
I have not seen it, but going by online and print stories from those who have, it is the tale of a depressed, married motivational speaker who, on a trip to Cincinnati that features a one-night hotel stay, believes he has found his ideal mate. But there may be complications.
David Thewlis voices the lead character; Jennifer Jason Leigh is the woman he is attracted to. All other characters are voiced by Tom Noonan and have the same faces. That latter fact is important because it could be interpreted as a characteristic of a delusion called Fregoli Syndrome. In fact, the hotel in the film is named Fregoli.
Independently financed, partly through Kickstarter, Anomalisa has won raves since premiering at Telluride and Venice film festivals in September. Britain’s Sight & Sound, one of the world’s most important film journals, has just ranked it the 11th best new film of 2015 — Carol ranked second. And both it and Carol are Best Feature nominees for the Independent Spirit Awards.
It has been acquired by Paramount Pictures and is getting a limited release at the end of this month, after playing at film festivals, to qualify for Academy Awards. A huge poster board for its (still-undetermined) Cincinnati opening is already up at Esquire Theatre.
If all this sounds too good to be true, there is a catch. Advance reports and early reviews don’t make it appear that Anomalisa’s depiction of Cincinnati is an especially complimentary one. In fact, the city just might have been chosen intentionally as an appropriate place for someone like the film’s principal character, Michael Stone, to have an emotional crisis.
Here’s how Rodrigo Perez’ review on Indie Wire began:
“With apologies in advance to the people of Cincinnati, in the worldview of Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa, or at least to the misfortune of its characters, the Queen City represents a soul-crushing dullness and boredom that could drive any man mad. For customer service guru and author Michael Stone (brilliantly voiced by David Thewlis as a classic Kaufman-esque misanthrope), already fundamentally unhappy and in the midst of a huge existential crisis, Cincy is a grueling hell on Earth of fatuous people and irritating small talk.
“In all fairness, it could be any faceless and anonymous city — part of Kaufman’s aim is to examine and send-up the mundanity of the business trip and that odd experience of feeling like an alien exploring the world of this not-quite-real, single-serving fantasy existence where people wait on you hand and foot.”
Whatever its take on Cincinnati, the work that went into making Anomalisa is impressive. According to the Crafting Anomalisa short, it involved the creation of 1,261 faces and 1,000 costumes and required 118,089 frames of film to reach its final 90-minute running time.