A movie review of “Cheatin,’ ”: The latest feature from animator Bill Plympton is a pulpy, sex-addled opera that chronicles a couple from first meeting to marital crisis.
“Cheatin,’ ” the latest feature from the feverishly crosshatched imagination of the animator Bill Plympton, is a pulpy, sex-addled opera rendered in fleet penciled lines and watercolor washes. Plympton’s unmistakable style — the scrunched-up faces and elongated bodies, the figures that mutate as well as move, the volatile blending of the sensual and the grotesque — is pressed into the service of a lurid, lusty story that takes place in a colorful film-noir dreamscape.
Bursting with sound but devoid of intelligible dialogue, “Cheatin’ ” chronicles a couple, Jake and Ella, from first meeting to marital crisis. The opening sequence, which in some ways the movie never tops, follows Ella through a crowded carnival. Her lissome gait and bright yellow hat attract admiring attention that turns to mockery and hostility when she ignores it, preferring to read a book. Ella’s humiliation is one of the film’s motifs. She is a blameless soul brought down repeatedly by the reflexive aggression of others.
At first these others are mostly men, the exception being Jake. While on a date with someone else, he rescues Ella from a bumper-car mishap, and at first touch both are smitten. There follows a period of hot-and-heavy marital bliss (the soundtrack fills with moans and sighs and creaking bedsprings) and an old-fashioned household arrangement. Jake goes off to work at a gas station, while Ella stays home with the laundry, the dishes and her libido.
‘Cheatin’,’ with the voices of Sophia Takal, Jeremy Baumann, Alex Markowitz, Sita Steele, Jacob Steele. Written and directed by Bill Plympton. 76 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Northwest Film Forum, through Tuesday, April 21.
The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
She has eyes only for her husband, who is drawn with a massive rib cage, a skeletal waist and a face like a Brancusi sculpture. Plenty of other women like his looks, too, though, including an exhibitionist neighbor and a slinky-hipped customer. He ignores them all, until …
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But see for yourself. After a graceful, wonderfully simple beginning, the story grows a bit tangled. There are a retired stage magician, a killer for hire, a series of sordid encounters in a motel room, an incriminating photograph, a wayward chicken. There is also a rawness and intensity of emotion unusual in a cartoon. The music (an urgent, passionate score by Nicole Renaud, supplemented by snippets of Verdi, Ravel and others) creates a sustained melodramatic swoon that is enhanced rather than undermined by the exaggerated designs.
As always with Plympton, the plot serves as a scaffolding for the visual inventions. Like every other great animator, from Chuck Jones to Hayao Miyazaki, Plympton rewrites the laws of physics at will, but within a rigorous and coherent logic. He conjures a world of absolute improbability that, somehow, makes perfect sense.