Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2015. Harmonius Claptrap, Snoot Entertainment, Starburns Industries. Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, based on his play. Cinematography by Joe Passarelli. Produced by Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman, Dino Stamatopoulos, Rosa Tran. Music by Carter Burwell. Production Design by John Joyce, Huy Vu. Costume Design by Susan Donym. Film Editing by Garret Elkins. Academy Awards 2015. Golden Globe Awards 2015. Independent Spirit Awards 2015. Toronto International Film Festival 2015. Washington Film Critics Awards 2015.
Leave it to Charlie Kaufman to find in animation the opportunity to describe the limits of the imagination. David Thewlis voices the character of a motivational speaker who is spending a dull evening in a Cincinnati hotel before having to give a presentation the next morning. He decides to ring up an ex-girlfriend and make up for the mistakes of his past, possibly also to rectify the situation of his current marriage that is suffering his inability to be wholly present. The problem, of course, might be his own jaded perspective: every character surrounding him has the same voice (all by Tom Noonan) and the same face, all serving to remind him of his completely uninspired daily life. When he meets a woman with her own appearance and sound (voiced delightfully by Jennifer Jason Leigh), Thewlis is so enamored with her that she becomes his only hope for a future. Played out mostly over the one night in the hotel, the film is a romantic, intelligently bitter examination of our inability to remove our own desires from our affection from others. You could say that the main character is trying to see people for who they are but eventually cannot help but see them for what they provide him, namely in his case the thrill of the new. Expertly animated and written with an emphasis on subtle dialogue, this one goes the opposite route of Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York by focusing on one sharp theme instead of throwing every possible idea into a ridiculous mix, while the melancholy ending avoids his frequent habit of getting too cute with his twist conclusions.