Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Written byCharlie Kaufman
Based onAnomalisa
by Charlie KaufmanFF
Produced by
CinematographyJoe Passarelli
Edited byGarret Elkins
Music byCarter Burwell
Distributed byParamount Pictures[1]
Release dates
Running time
90 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$8 million[3]
Box office$5.7 million[3]

Anomalisa is a 2015 American stop motion animated psychological comedy-drama film written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, who co-directed with Duke Johnson. It was based on Kaufman's 2005 audio play of the same name under his alias Francis Fregoli, which is considered an exploration of the Fregoli delusion.[4][5] Anomalisa follows British middle-aged customer service expert Michael Stone (David Thewlis), who perceives everyone (Tom Noonan) as identical except for Lisa Hesselman (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whom he meets in a Cincinnati hotel.

Kaufman's audio play premiered in Los Angeles, and featured the voices of Thewlis, Noonan, and Leigh. He opposed adapting the play into a film, fearing loss of artistic merit, but began exploring the idea in 2012 after incorporating edits to the script. Filming faced delays as Starburns Industries initially secured production funding on Kickstarter only to adapt the play as a short film, with animation beginning in late 2013. The filmmakers faced struggles with stop-motion technology, a notoriously laborious medium. This was alleviated after Paramount Animation joined production, enabling the film to be expanded to a feature.

Anomalisa premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on September 4, 2015, and was theatrically released in the U.S. on December 30 by Paramount Pictures. The film received critical acclaim, with praise for its screenplay, direction, and thematic content. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the first R-rated animated film to be nominated in this category,[6] and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival, the first animated film to do so.[7]


In 2005, middle-aged English-born lonely customer service expert and motivational speaker Michael Stone travels to Cincinnati, Ohio to promote his latest book at a convention at the Fregoli Hotel. He feels distant from everyone around him, whom he perceives as having an identical face and voice, including his wife and son.

Michael practices his speech in his room but is haunted by the memory of an angry letter from a former lover, Bella, whom he abruptly left years ago without an explanation. He arranges to meet her in the hotel bar but she is still upset and outraged by his invitation to his room, eventually storming out. Going for a walk, Michael mistakes an adult toy store for a children's toy store. Wanting to buy his son a present, he goes in and realizes his mistake, but is fascinated by a Japanese animatronic doll behind the counter.

After taking a shower, Michael hears a unique female voice and rushes from his room to find her. He meets Lisa, an insecure young woman attending the convention with her friend Emily. Enraptured by her unique appearance and voice, he invites both women for drinks at the bar. Later, to Lisa's surprise, Michael invites her to his room. Still captivated, he encourages her to sing and tell him about her life. She sings Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and after she calls herself an "anomaly", he nicknames her Anomalisa. The two become intimate and eventually have sex.

Michael has a nightmare in which the lower half of his face falls off and the identical people of the world pursue him, claiming they love him and insisting he and Lisa cannot be together. The dream inspires Michael to propose he and Lisa start a new life together. She agrees, but her eating habits during breakfast annoy him, and her voice and face begin to transform into those of everyone else. During his convention talk, Michael suffers a breakdown, claiming he has no one to talk to and ranting about the American government, alienating the audience.

Michael returns to his home in Los Angeles, California. He gives the Japanese animatronic doll to his son who is nonplussed and notices a mysterious substance leaking from it. His wife notes its resemblance to semen but dismisses it nonchalantly. She has arranged a surprise party for Michael but he does not recognize any of the attendees, angering her. Michael sits alone on the stairs as the doll, bearing facial damage in the same locations as Lisa's facial scarring, sings "Momotarō's Song", a Japanese children's song. Lisa writes Michael a letter, saying she hopes they will meet again while Emily, sitting beside her in her car, has her unique face.




Directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson at the 2015 Fantastic Fest

The first version of Anomalisa was written and performed in 2005 for the Los Angeles run of "Theater of the New Ear", described as "a concert for music and text, or a set of 'sound plays'" by Carter Burwell, who commissioned and scored them.[8] It was a double bill with Kaufman's Hope Leaves the Theater, and replaced Sawbones, by the Coen Brothers, from the earlier New York run, after that play's actors were unavailable.[9] This Anomalisa was credited to the pen name Francis Fregoli, a reference to the Fregoli delusion, a disorder centered around the belief that different people are in fact a single person who changes appearance or is in disguise.[5] The 2005 performance had Thewlis and Leigh sitting on opposite sides of the stage, with Noonan in the middle; Burwell conducted the Parabola Ensemble, and there was a foley artist.[8][10]

Kaufman was initially opposed to turning the play into an animated film, saying that the play had "a disconnect between what's being said on stage and what the audience is seeing – there's Tom playing all these characters, there's Jennifer and David having sex while they're really just standing across the stage from each other and moaning. You'd lose that". The film was reinvented, although its script was described by The Guardian as "virtually the same" as that of the original play.[11]

The film's production company, Starburns Industries, sought funding on Kickstarter to "produce this unique and beautiful film outside of the typical Hollywood studio system," where the company believed the film would be inevitably changed from its initial conception. Initially pitched as a short film "approximately 40 minutes in length", the team set a funding goal of $200,000. By the end of the campaign, 5,770 backers had pledged $406,237 to the project.[12] After the success of the Kickstarter initiative, additional funding was secured by the film's production company, Starburns Industries, and the film was expanded to feature length.[13]


The puppets were created with 3D printers,[14] with multiple copies of each character. Eighteen Michaels and six Lisas were created.[15] Johnson recounted that the team was told that such realistic puppets would be "disturbing and off-putting", but disagreed, saying that the nature of stop-motion film, with human hands moving puppets for each frame, brought "organic life" to the medium.[11] One goal of the film was for viewers to "forget they were looking at something animated and just get wrapped up in the scene", he said; "the challenge we felt with so much animated stuff is that you're always conscious of the animation, and we kept asking, 'What if we could escape that? What would it be like?'".[14]

Kaufman and Johnson have described the process of stop-motion animation as "laborious" and found challenges in making the puppets look lifelike and relatable.[16] Animator Dan Driscoll said they found people on whom to model the puppets, studied human movement and facial expressions to produce a precise result, created the puppets and built the sets, and finally placed the puppets on the sets and moved them frame by frame to create the illusion of movement.[16] Kaufman said the medium of stop-motion underpins the narrative of Anomalisa by drawing attention to small details viewers would not notice in a live-action film.[17] The film was in production for more than two years.[15]


Main article: Anomalisa (soundtrack)


Anomalisa had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on September 4, 2015.[18] The film went on to screen at the Venice Film Festival on September 8[19] and the Toronto International Film Festival on September 15.[20] Shortly after, Paramount Pictures acquired its worldwide distribution rights.[21] The film had a limited release on December 30, 2015[19] and a wider release in January.[22]

The film's DVD and Blu-ray packs were released on June 7, 2016.[23] The Blu-ray Combo Pack with Digital HD includes an in-depth look at the filmmaking process with Kaufman and Johnson and three behind-the-scenes features, including an extended look at the production process and deeper themes of the story. Looks at the sound design and the ground-breaking techniques used to create one of the film's most intricate and intimate scenes are also shown.[24] In the Blu-ray pack, thanks to the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 used in the film's production, ambient sound effects such as the hotel bar background can be perfectly heard and combined with the dialogue.[25]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 91% based on 278 reviews, with an average rating of 8.4/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Anomalisa marks another brilliant and utterly distinctive highlight in Charlie Kaufman's filmography, and a thought-provoking treat for fans of introspective cinema."[26] The film also has a weighted average score of 88 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 46 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[27]

In Time Out David Calhoun awarded the film five out of five stars and wrote, "It's what you imagine might have happened if Charlie Kaufman had got his hands on Up in the Air or Lost in Translation."[28] Drew McWeeny of Hitfix called it "the most shattering experiment yet from Charlie Kaufman" and graded it an A+.[29] LA Weekly's Amy Nicholson gave the film an A and wrote, "Kaufman is taking our brains apart and showing us the gears."[30] The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gave the film five out of five, naming it his film of the week, and wrote: "It is really funny, and incidentally boasts one of the most extraordinarily real sex scenes in film history. It also scared me the way a top-notch horror or a sci-fi dystopia might ... Is there anyone else in the movies doing such unique and extraordinary work?"[31]

Observer critic Mark Kermode gave Anomalisa three out of five, writing: "Sometimes it falls apart ... But there's something magical about the malaise which raises this above mere misanthropy—a heightened sense of fragile life that perhaps only puppets could hope to achieve."[32] Stephanie Zacharek of Time wrote: "Once you start reckoning with Anomalisa's obsession with self-absorption, the novelty of this one-man pity party begins to wear off."[33]

Top ten lists

Anomalisa was listed on numerous critics' top ten lists for 2015.[34]


Award Category Recipient Result
Academy Awards Best Animated Feature Film Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson, and Rosa Tran Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Animated Feature Film Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Golden Reel Awards[35] Best Sound Editing: Sound Effects, Foley, Dialogue & ADR in an Animation Feature Film Aaron Glacock, Christopher S. Aud, MPSE
Critics Choice Awards Best Animated Feature Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Annie Awards Best Animated Feature Rosa Tran, Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman and Dino Stamatopoulos
Best Directing in a Feature Production Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Best Music in a Feature Production Carter Burwell
Best Voice Acting in a Feature Production Jennifer Jason Leigh
Best Editing in a Feature Production Garret Elkins
Austin Fantastic Fest Best Director Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman Won
Fantastic Features
Golden Tomato Awards[36] Best Animated Movie 2015 Anomalisa 3rd Place
Independent Spirit Award Best Feature Nominated
Best Director Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Best Screenplay Charlie Kaufman
Best Supporting Female Jennifer Jason Leigh
American Cinema Editors Best Edited Animated Feature Film Garret Elkins
Mill Valley Film Festival Audience Award Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson Won
Toronto Film Critics Best Animated Film Runner-up
Venice Film Festival Grand Special Jury Prize Won
Future Film Festival Digital Award
Golden Lion Nominated
Green Drop Award
Austin Film Critics Association Awards Best Film
Best Animated Film
Top 10 Best films 4th Place
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Awards Best Depiction of Nudity, Sexuality, or Seduction David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh (tied with Carol) Won
Best Animated Film Nominated
Village Voice Film Poll Best Animated Film Anomalisa 2nd Place
Best Film Nominated
Best Screenplay 4th Place
Satellite Awards Best Animated or Mixed Media Film Nominated
Saturn Awards[37] Best Animated Film


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  6. ^ King, Melissa. "Movie addict: Discover the extraordinary in 'Anomalisa'". St. Cloud Times. Retrieved 17 June 2021.
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  17. ^ Gross, Terry (22 December 2015). "Frame-By-Frame, Filmmakers Make The Mundane Miraculous In 'Anomalisa'". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
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  30. ^ Nicholson, Amy (15 September 2015). "Charlie Kaufman Has Directed His Second Masterpiece". LA Weekly. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
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FF.^ Under the pen name Francis Fregoli.