There's something really distinctive about Bill Plympton's animation. Perhaps it's the fact that the drawings always look like sketches that have come to life. You won't mistake his artistry for that of any other animator. With Plympton, you always see the lines in his work, and the lines shake and vibrate in such a way that they take on a woozy, lysergic quality. The guy doesn't even need dialogue to tell a story, something that's illustrated clearly by his latest effort, Cheatin', another fantastic film that enables him to show off his incredible skills. The movie makes its Cleveland debut at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 5, and shows again at 9:10 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, at the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque.
In the film's opening scene, Ella, a woman who wears a bright yellow hat, teases a group of guys. She ends up in bumper cars where she (literally) runs into Jake, an incredibly burly guy who's riding around with his girlfriend. When a group of creepy guys start following her in the bumper cars, Jake comes to her rescue, stopping them in their tracks with a fierce sneer. And when her car becomes lodged in the ceiling after she wipes out, Jake heroically leaps to her rescue.
Jake and Ella fall madly in love and a surreal montage depicts the way in which their love grows and grows after this initial meeting. Cupid even drives off with her in a heart-shaped airplane. Their love is so fierce that when they get married, they destroy their house as they make their way from the driveway to the bedroom for a marathon session of lovemaking. During one particularly colorful sequence, they hold hands and dance to the tune of La Traviata's "The Drinking Song."
But when another woman suggests Ella has been cheating on Jake, Jake goes nuts and starts sleeping with other women. Ella, for her part, tries to find ways of rekindling their love, even consulting a discredited magician that can teleport people's souls.
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign that yielded $100,000, the film is rather inscrutable at times; it helps to know the plot before heading in to see the movie. But it's also an impressive effort from an underground artist whose career is an artistic high.