Monday, March 30, 2015

CHEATIN' -- Adult animation thrives, off and on, in Bill Plympton's new infidelity-themed movie

Animator Bill Plympton is about as far as you can get from the bright, primary-colored, family-friendly, constant-action, all-special-effects-all-the-time animated movies that appear in theaters at a rate, these days, of maybe two to three per month. His new film, CHEATIN', is all about exactly that -- except that most of the infidelity here goes on in the fevered brain of our male protagonist, who, in the course of the first fifteen minutes of the film, has met, fallen in lust with, and abandoned his current girlfriend for the arms (and other body parts) of our heroine.

Mr. Plympton (shown at left), whose work I seem to favor in smaller rather than full-length doses, is great at animation that combines both the dark and the rapturous. His amazing and unbelievably numerous pencil lines (I'm thinking they're pencil, anyway) add such strangeness and style to his work. In this new film, a tall, entitled and quite fashionable young lady (below), shown from various angles -- all of them alluring and a little odd -- struts her way along, her face embedded in a book, passing men who seem to become immediately smitten by her. She is, as they say, a piece of work.

One of the things she struts by is a local carnival, to which its owner gives her ticket after ticket until she finally agrees to enter. Then -- don't ask why -- she decides to ride the bumper cars. Something less likely is hard to imagine. But it gives Plympton the chance to go wild with some beautifully animated action.

It also gives our gal the opportunity to meet that lunk of a guy (drawn impeccably weird, he is all biceps and chest but near-zero in the waist department) who soon becomes her new love.

But then -- it seems that hardly any time has passed -- the green-eyed monster raises its head via another young woman who has the hots for our guy. When he shows no interest in her, she conspires to make him think his own gal has been unfaithful. And, oh, the tsuris stirred up here!

The colors range from earth tones to what you might call dank pastel, and the hand-drawing goes from simple pencil lines to full-bore rapture. Mr. Plympton gives us a fire-starter, sex acts, a couple of hard-boiled eggs that look like nothing so much as a pair of gonads, and an ice-box opera complete with refrigerated chorus. Themes get repeated here, too: that earlier bumper car soon becomes one of milady's slippers. And finally there is a machine that offers transmigration-of-souls!

We get fantasy and reality, nice visual equivalents of loneliness and despair, and even a little music from Ravel's Bolero. And, unless I missed something, all of this is without a single line of dialog.  Instead, we're offered music and/or a lot of sound effects: grunting, groaning and the like. This is all both artistic and quite primal. And repetitious.

Even at 76 minutes, the movie's too long and too repetitive. For my taste, Plympton spends too much time on just about every one of his scenes -- until we get it, and then some. That's why I say that this particular animator is often better seen in smaller doses. There's a lot to like in Cheatin', but the actual content of the film does not nearly approach its running time. If unusual and creative animation is enough for you, however, this may very well be your ticket.

The movie opens this Friday, April 3, in New York City at the Village East Cinema. The following week it hits Chicago, and then 17 more locations in the weeks to come. You can view all playdates, with cities and theaters listed, by clicking here. On Tuesday, April 21, the film will have its digital premiere via Vimeo On Demand, for rental or sale.

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