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Florida Film Festival: Cheatin'

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Bill Plympton is crazy. I say that with all due respect. Only a mad genius could come up with the images that permeate Cheatin', the animator's latest feature. It takes what begins as a fairly conventional story and fills it with animation so surreal and creative that you forgive the narrative failings. This film is certainly not for kids or really anyone with a short attention span. Despite the wild visuals it takes patience, but succeeds as experimental art.

Ella meets Jake at a carnival when their bumper cars collide, and they fall madly in love. Wedded bliss follows, but a misunderstanding leads Jake to believe that Ella has cheated on him. Heartbroken and angry, he tries to get back at her by sleeping with as many women as he can. Ella, crushed by Jake's infidelity, tries to take revenge, first by hiring an assassin, and then seeking the help of a washed up magician in possession of a teleporting machine. (Really.) Using the machine Ella beams herself into the bodies of Jake's mistresses, so he is actually cheating on his wife with his wife.

There's a bit more to the plot, but that's basically it. What isn't mundane in the plot is so out of left field that it almost doesn't fit within this narrative. None of that really matters though because the whole point of the film is the mad visual style. I say the plot is mundane, but the execution makes certain banal details anything but. There is no dialogue; the characters make occasional gasps, cries, and grunts to convey emotion but not a word is uttered, and it works. Plympton makes his characters so expressive that language becomes unnecessary, and the only language is his visual style.

Some of the sequences are positively hallucinogenic, especially an early sequence illustrating literally what Ella goes through emotionally as she falls in love with Jake. Plympton doesn't shy away from the crude, taking a page from the book of Ralph Bakshi in the heaving bosom department. Plympton hand drew every frame of the film, and it is a quite an achievement. The animation is not as clean and polished as a Pixar film, but I think that's the point. Cheatin' is a great example of outsider animation, one that hopefully will find a large audience.

For screening info, visit the Florida Film Festival website, and read my other reviews here.


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