Thursday, December 10, 2015
And it addresses in new and fruitful ways the kinds of questions cinema sometimes aspires to answer. What does love look like? How does it feel to be deeply disconnected from the rest of the race? And, to quote its hero: “What is it to be human? To ache?”
That hero is Michael Stone, a famous-in-his-field inspirational speaker who has written a bestseller on customer service and is making a one-night business trip to Cincinnati from Los Angeles. He lands at the airport, goes to the hotel, orders room service and has encounters with various women – including an emotional ex called Donna, and Lisa, a charming telesales agent – before he delivers his keynote speech.
Michael is voiced by David Thewlis, retaining his Lancashire accent (and nailing his best part since Naked), Lisa by Jennifer Jason Leigh and everyone else by Tom Noonan. Noonan has a calm, normal voice, unmoderated whether he’s Michael’s wife, his son, the bar staff, the ex, a cabbie or a sex shop worker.
And not only does everyone save Michael and Lisa sound the same, they look the same, too. Only the hairstyle or gender (or species) switch as the smooth, gormless faces remain constant. These are humanised crash test dummies: each head divided into a number of plates - for ease of manipulation, presumably, but also to heighten the sense of uncanny construct.
Michael and Lisa, on the other hand, are more photorealistic. He has sunken eyes, stubble, a thousand-yard-stare, a face you forget isn’t flesh. She has a facial burn and a garrulousness shaped by shyness. They have bodies too: appallingly, amazingly realistic torso-thickened frames which tense and shudder like the real deal, and which we see naked in one extraordinary sequence that helped land the movie that rating (for “strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language”). But the real coup here is not Team America-style puppet porn: it’s that a scene which starts out earning gasps and laughs turns so touching, even erotic.