And now for something really different....
Charlie Kaufman's animation looks more like puppetry, but his characters don't mind cussing (lots of f-words) and even sexuality. And the other surprise is in the voices.
Michael Stone (the voice of David Thewlis) is traveling on a plane to Cincinnati. He's bored, and everything he does is boring: an innocuous conversation with the guy sitting next to him. A cab driver who won't shut up about things to do in his fine city, even after Michael told him he'd only be there a day. A too-friendly desk clerk at the hotel, and a too-talkative valet for his bag.
Michael tries turning on the television. Nothing. He orders room service. He looks out the window and sees a guy in another room pulling his pants down in front of his computer. Yuch. Impulsively, Michael calls an old girlfriend, who's absolutely flabbergasted to hear from him, after 10 years of silence, but finally agrees to meet him for drinks in the bar, where he clumsily propositions her, and she leaves in a huff.
Michael calls home and speaks to the wife, who wants him to say hello to their young son, who asks only what he's going to bring him. Michael trudges outside to buy a toy, and the only store he can find open sells quite a different type of toy. Michael is taking a shower when he thinks he hears the old girlfriend at his door (wishful thinking), and rushes out in the hallway, barely dressed, to run after her, and runs into a couple of young women who are...his fans?
Yes, it seems that Michael is a public speaker, an “expert” about customer service, who has recently written a book. He's in Cincinnati as the featured speaker for a sales convention. He's tried already to rehearse his speech, but he finds he can't get into it. But he turns on the charm for the two women who have come to hear him speak in the morning, and takes them to the bar, fills them with drinks, and finally asks one of them, Lisa (the voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh) to come back to his room with him.
The reason Michael is so interested in Lisa is because she's unlike anyone else. Everybody around him sounds the same and looks the same (all the other voices in the film are done by the same guy, Tom Noonan, including all the women's voices escept Lisa). But Lisa is different...her voice is so clear and beautiful (not to mention actually feminine). Michael asks her to sing, which flatters her, so she softly sings Cyndi Lauper's “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” her favorite song. Michael takes his seductive cue from this, and soon they are coupling in the big king bed in the swanky hotel room. Michael has a nightmare about being pursued by people he doesn't want, then wakes up to Lisa, who says he elbowed her in the face by his thrashing, but she doesn't mind.
Over room-service breakfast in bathrobes, suddenly her voice begins to change, and he begins to hear her in the same way he hears everyone else, and though he's already asked her about running away with him, she realizes he's quickly having the morning-after change of heart.
He bombs his speech, saying inappropriate personal things and not being able to stay on track. He dutifully goes home to his wife, who throws him a surprise party he didn't want. He's back to his despair and depression; the kind of angst that doesn't go away, because it bubbles up from within him.
An animated feature about existential angst? Can it work? Well, after a fashion. But don't expect to be charmed, delighted, amused, or inspired. It might touch a nerve. But it won't entertain.
Questions For Discussion:
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Mabank, Texas