Charlie Kaufman inspires adult animation in ‘Anomalisa’

A scene from Anomalisa. —Courtesy Paramount Pictures

“Anomalisa” by director Charlie Kaufman, and “Hello, My Name Is Doris” open at the MV Film Center this weekend. The first is a haunting stop-action animated film about a motivational guru. The second is a Sally Field vehicle where this estimable actress plays a goofball eccentric.

Working with stop-motion whiz Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman has produced a powerfully original film in “Anomalisa.” Kaufman has already pushed the boundaries of film as the writer and/or director of “Being John Malkovich” (1999), “Adaptation” (2002), “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004), and “Synecdoche” (2008). The word “anomaly,” combined with Lisa, a character voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh, explains this new film’s title.

The viewer meets motivational author Michael Stone, voiced by David Thewlis, as he flies to a speaking engagement. Michael, a slightly truncated, slightly shambling simulacrum with a seamed face, suffers from loneliness and existential angst. Everyone he meets looks and speaks like him as he desperately searches for meaningful connections. He finds one with Lisa, a fan who plans to attend Michael’s speech. She is the first person he meets with a distinctive female voice, and this married man falls hard for her.

Much of the fascination of “Anomalisa” comes from how Kaufman manipulates sound, an important element of the film. Clues to this aesthetic device start with at-first puzzling blackouts at the film’s beginning and end, where the soundtrack is filled with indistinct chatter. It also figures in Kaufman’s and Johnson’s use of puppetry, where they prod the viewer to switch back and forth between realistic representations of Michael and other characters and their status as avatars. “Anomalisa” is a tour-de-force of social and cinematic commentary, not to be missed by cinephiles.

“Hello My Name Is Doris”

In the past year, Hollywood has cranked out three major pseudo-comedies starring fine actresses of a certain age. “Hello, My name Is Doris” is the most recent. Maggie Smith stooped to playing a bag lady in “The Lady in a Van,” and Lily Tomlin hammed it up in “Grandma.” At a time when the movie industry has scrambled to rectify its paucity of roles for African-Americans, it seems to have forgotten that it also needs to amend its ageist and sexist tendencies. The aforementioned films exemplify the disrespect Hollywood shows older citizens, especially when they are women.

Sally Field won Oscars for her powerful portrayal of a union organizer in “Norma Rae” (1979) and a widowed farmer in “Places in the Heart” (1984). Her more recent performance in “Lincoln” (2012) won her a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

In her latest role as Doris Miller, Field plays a 60-ish spinster working as a data-entry clerk for a New York clothing design firm. From cat’s-eye spectacles to mismatched plaids and prints, her wardrobe is cringe-worthy, especially considering where she works. Her mother, whom she’s spent a lifetime caring for, has just died, casting Doris adrift. As if she’s been touched by a fairy queen’s wand, Doris’s life is transformed once handsome young John Fremont adjusts her glasses in a jam-packed elevator. In the kind of coincidence that only happens in the movies, John works at the same firm as Doris.

Our doughty spinster is off and running in pursuit of this much younger man. John, his friends, and others of his generation, adopt Doris like a so-awful-she’s-cool pet. Blessed and cursed with a now-aging marshmallow face, Field mugs and sobs through her misguided chase after John. As her best friend, Roz, Tyne Daly at least adds a sarcastic bite to a movie that demeans an actress with a track record of accomplished roles.

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