Faithful Criticwire readers may remember that I have a general policy against watching movie trailers, for the simple reason that I think going into movies cold is one of a critic’s rarest privileges, and there’s no point in spoiling it out of mere impatience. But I’ve already seen Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s “Anomalisa,” which frees me up to examine how Paramount, which purchased the movie in September, is going about the substantial challenge of marketing it. “Anomalisa” is, as you’d might expect from Kaufman, is a deeply strange (and deeply wonderful) movie, using stop-motion animation to chronicle a successful business-book author’s lonely night in a featureless Cincinnati hotel room. It’s painful and funny and terrifying and profound, and absolutely not built to be summed up in a two-minute trailer. So the trailer that was released today doesn’t even try — and that’s what makes it great.
(Minor spoilers ahead.) With the exception of the final exchange, nearly all of the dialogue in the “Anomalisa” trailer comes from a single speech at the end, the presentation Michael Stone (David Thewlis), the prosperous author of the customer-service manual “How Can I Help You Help Them?” has come to Cincinnati to give. And without giving away how that presentation winds up, it’s safe to say that he doesn’t believe a word of it. Michael is in the grip of what’s known as the Fregoli delusion, a psychological disorder in which a person believes that several other people are actually the same person — that they are not, in fact, individuals. “Remember, there is something special about each individual — focus on that” might be good advice, but when he says it, Michael is full of shit, and so is the trailer that relies so heavily on his words.
In other words, the trailer for “Anomalisa” isn’t advertising the movie itself, but the movie its main character wishes it were — the way he wishes he was. The trailer, which Kaufman and Johnson reportedly had a hand in, is a Trojan horse, selling the sunny upside of the movie while nearly obliterating its much more substantial downside. It’s kind of hilarious how distinct the experience of watching the trailer is from the film itself, although most people won’t be in a position to make that judgement for themselves until early next year. Anyone who takes “Anomalisa’s” trailer at face value will end up disappointed, but that disappointment is completely in tune with the film itself.