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by Jay Seaver

"Another good reason for Bill Plympton fans to remain loyal to the man."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Cheatin'" is the new Bill Plympton movie, his first feature since 2008's "Idiots and Angels", and it's a fine demonstration that over thirty years as an independent animator, he hasn't dulled his edge much while carving out his niche. It's funny, strange past the point of eccentric, and has a style that is unmistakable for anyone else. Longtime fans should be pleased; and it wouldn't be a particular surprise if showing it to friends created new fans.

It starts with Ella walking around carnival row; she's got green eyes, an hourglass figure, and her nose both in a book and a bit in the air. Cajoled into getting on the bumper cars, she's nearly electrocuted in a freak accident, only to be saved by the studly Jake. Soon, they're inseparable, but one of the many smitten women who stops at Jake's gas station has a plan to get a piece of Jake, leading to more drastic responses on Ella's part.

There's no mistaking a Bill Plympton production even at a glance; his pencil work is unmistakable even as he's shifted to using digital compositing and coloring to put his movies together. It's a bit less sketchy here than some of his previous films, steady from frame to frame and colored in a style meant to evoke watercolors more than his usual colored pencils, and as a result maybe a little easier to watch even as what's happening is strange or the designs are hyper-exaggerated caricatures (everybody is all chest and skinny waists, even if that means Jake's abs have to be stacked one atop another).

That sort of outsized design is necessary, though, as the characters mainly express themselves through body language and sudden shifts of facial expressions as much as anything else. Sometimes this can be very funny - witness a furious Ella or a stunned/confused/ashamed Jake - but Plympton's "acting" does get across a whole range of emotions, from joy to rage to sadness, that only occasionally needs to be augmented by the sounds they make. It's kind of funny to see an up-and-coming actress like Sophia Takal credited as Ella and more or less contributing grunts, squeals, and sighs; the score by Nicole Renaud serves as the true soundtrack to this movie.

It's a niftily noir-inspired one that blends well with the crackle of electricity that pops up every so often. Plympton's story itself is inspired by the pulpy work of James M. Cain but takes a fantastical turn later on, and it's impressive just how steamy and dangerous things can feel even as Plympton pours on the stylization and slapstick: This is a pretty sexy movie even without an abundance of realistic human figures, and Plympton feels comfortable throwing a joke in anywhere. In fact, he'll throw lots of jokes in at some points; as much as his short films are wonderfully economical in their pacing, he seems to enjoy loosening up and and letting gags play out here.

In the interests of disclosure, I did contribute to the Kickstarter project that funded this film, at the $40 level, but that just means I've got a copy coming later in the year, not that I'll derive any financial benefit from other people seeing it. I've liked Plympton's stuff for a long time, and am happy to support his work with money as well as words, especially when it's as entertaining as "Cheatin'" is.

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originally posted: 07/24/14 01:17:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Slamdance Film Festival For more in the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Cinequest Festival For more in the 2014 Cinequest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Bill Plympton

Written by
  Bill Plympton


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