Legendary animator and filmmaker Bill Plympton explores the human condition to hurt what we love in his latest poignant piece, Cheatin’. It’s full of emotional fervour and sensitivity while coming equipped with the filmmaker’s signature brand of off-beat humour.
It all starts at a carnival during an amusing, scary bumper car ride – of course, it does. Ella is gawked at by the fair’s male population, and is seen as an obvious target for crazy bumper car drivers. However, she’s saved by beefcake Jake who literally sweeps her up.
Their relationship moves fast, but the audience is convinced of the emotional connection. Cheatin’ has its romantic leads serenading each other to classical music while diving in and out of dreamlike fantasies, yet it’s all coherent to the audience.
A misunderstanding regarding a vague photograph sends Jake over the edge as he peels through different scenery in a cramped car. Again, the wild visuals copy Jake’s hysteria, but Plympton stays within a comprehensible reality where movie goers understand the sadness and desperation. Some may even find themselves relating to Jake’s dilemma when they’re not wondering if Plympton has accidentally labeled women as flirtatious manipulators.
Without bothering to question the situation, Jake decides to “get even” by pulling the same deception Ella has “seemingly” pulled on her beau. Plympton’s thought-provoking sudden transition from romance to revenge defies mushy clichés, even though the film calls on them later to bring the story around full circle. The filmmaker wants the audience to feel the initial hurt and the angry confusion that follows during hasty decisions. Each vigorous animation packs a heated wallop, yet never strays too far away from the scared innocence each character has.
A magical machine that stimulates Ella to switch bodies may be too random and too much of a Deus ex Machina for some viewers, but what Plympton does with this exciting device drew me deeper into his wonderfully vivid, unthinkable, and weirdly tangible film.
Cheatin’ screens at Toronto’s The Royal Cinema for one-night only on Wednesday, May 20 at 9:30 pm.