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Soundtrack review: Anomalisa (Carter Burwell – 2015)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Anomalisa (Carter Burwell – 2015)


“Anomalisa” is a 2015 American stop-motion adult animated comedy-drama film directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, and written by Kaufman based on his own eponymous play (released under the pseudonym Francis Fregoli). The film stars the voices of David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan. Michael Stone, an author of books on the subject of customer service, struggles with his inability to connect to people. One night, while on a routine business trip, he meets a stranger who changes his world view. It’s a very interesting visual concept and I trust Charlie Kaufman’s innovative ideas. Carter Burwell wrote the score and he’s had a busy end of 2015.

I’m very curious how one scores a film like this. Burwell has experience in capturing the nuances of Kaufman’s brainchild from “Being John Malkovich” and from the very beginning of the score I get sucked back into that unique universe with sarcastic string motifs and a noir sound that’s very alluring to me. The surprise comes in the second cue “Welcome to the Fregoli” which is a weird mix of monologue, people singing, the “fasten your seatbelt” announcement from a plane and a smooth jazzy motif. Yep, it’s Charlie Kaufman alright and I should have known to expect the unexpected.

It’s fasniating to me how Carter Burwell can mirror the fairy tale like setting of the film in his music. The score doesn’t move linear, it takes twists and turns and it combines foul mouthed voice overs with dreamy magical motifs. The contrast between the end of “Cin Cin City” and the beginning of “Another person” is stark. I can’t say I’m a fan of the voice overs this time though. I’m sure the music fits the movie like a glove but the standalone listening experience has to suffer from the movie inserts. As the score progresses I feel further and further away from it because it’s just too much talk. The musical moments are beautiful and reflective and I could connect with them but they are interrupted too much for my taste. For example the title cue “Anomalisa” has a very nice quiet piano motif but it comes after a couple of minutes of dribble.

Towards the end of the score we get almost only spoken cues instead of music. And when music finally comes alone some voice hums the lyrics in the background and it’s still annoying to me. I guess I have to see the film or be in the right kind of mood. It’s a shame because, like I said, the actual music was quiet nice. But at times it was very hard to spot or enjoy. “Anomalisa” wasn’t for me. What do you thing of exaggerated voiceovers on a score?

Cue rating: 72 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 3 / 30

Album excellence: 10%



Cin Cin city

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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