The story is about two lonely people connecting with each other, and the strengths of the film are in their conversation and shared connection. It mostly centers on Michael (David Thewlis), a British author of a self-help book for customer service agents and phone operators. He comes to Cincinnati to give a speech, and, because he is bored with his life, he sees and hears everyone as identical, with Tom Noonan voicing male and female characters with the same needy, soft tone of voice. He goes through the motions of his life, as if in a daze, from taking a cab to checking into his hotel to ordering room service to taking a shower, until hearing a unique female voice jolts him awake.
The voice belongs to Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a nervous and insecure customer service agent who has a dorky charm about her. Their encounter and deeper connection both thrills Michael to meet a true individual and Lisa to be recognized and appreciated for her seemingly ordinary self, singing a Cyndi Lauper song and describing her day trip coming from Akron to Cincinnati. Leigh, known for playing a lot of dark characters (most recently an unrepentant murderer on her way to be hanged in The Hateful Eight), delivers one of my favorite performances I have seen from her, because she plays a character who is both mundane and completely charming at the same time. She is lonely, yet not a pathetic loser. She hasn't been with a man in eight years, yet is happy about being good at her job and singing along to pop songs. Leigh was just fantastic in this role, and it broke away from her usual dark character typecasting.
I thought about the film more after I left, as I did not like Michael. He was emotionally distant and cold to his family, his ex-girlfriend, and service workers. He was happy to speak with Lisa, but treated her as if she was a rare gem because she seemed "different," and the next day's events were heartbreaking to watch. I was concerned that the film fell into the trope of having a lonely man fall for a "quirky" woman who changes his life, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope from Garden State and Elizabethtown. But Kaufman wrote Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where he gave agency to Clementine, who didn't want to exist as men's inspiration or fantasy figure or a muse, and had her own life to handle. And Lisa, while she is romanticized by Michael as being an "anomaly," she is ordinary like him. It is his problem for being down and seeing everyone as identical, and it isn't up to her to change his life for the better. The ending was fitting, and broke conventions of the woman existing as muse for the man, and the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated it.