There’s not much in this world that is truly unique, but you would think puppets making love would be one of them. No, that dubious honor goes to Team America: World Police, by the creators of South Park. But those were obviously marionettes, with actual strings. The couple here is fairly realistic, for stop-motion animated characters.
Just when you think Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) couldn’t get any weirder, here he comes with this one. It is based on a play he wrote. My initial reaction to hearing this was animated was to wonder just why. But it turns out there is a perfectly logical reason. The story is of a man, a motivational speaker, who is having a breakdown of some sort. He can no longer distinguish between people. All men have the same face, and everyone has the same voice, male and female. The credits are simple:
David Thewlis as Michael Stone
Jennifer Jason Lee as Lisa
Tom Noonan as Everyone Else.
Clearly, the easiest way to have them all look alike was to have them be puppets. (Well, they could have worn masks, I guess, but I’m glad they didn’t.) You are in control of everything in an animated film. CGI could have pasted the same face on dozens of people in a live-action film, but then it would be a person, probably someone we know. This way they were all anonymous.
Stone stumbles across a woman, Lisa, who for some reason has her own, female voice. She is terribly shy and has almost no self-confidence, but the two eventually connect and it looks like it might be a good thing for both of them … but you know it’s unlikely to be.
Watching this, I gradually realized that one reason it all looked and felt so weird is that in animated films we expect animation. That is, lots of action. We are not used to seeing mundane things like a man checking into a hotel, taking a shower, ordering things from room service. This being Charlie Kaufman writing the script, much of the dialogue is just slightly off, a bit weird without being totally wacky. But otherwise, except for the fact that all the men look alike and everyone has the same voice, it is all relentlessly normal.
This is clearly not a film for everybody, but I liked it. I value writers and directors and actors who take me to a place I’ve never been before, because in this age of totally predictable sequels we see so few of them. Check it out, if you like weird stuff, too.