Told without dialogue, Bill Plympton's new hand-drawn feature follows the ups and downs of lovers Ella and Jake. After coming together during a freak bumper-car accident (during which Ella is pursued by every drooling, lustful man at the carnival), their perfect romance is torn asunder when Jake is tricked into believing that Ella is cheating on him, opening the gates for him to sleep with every woman who pulls into his gas station. By a stroke of luck, a despondent Ella stumbles upon a disreputable magician's soul-transference machine, allowing her to possess the bodies of Jake's lovers during his many, regularly scheduled trysts.
That may sound like just enough story for a short film, but Cheatin' is Plympton at the top of his game, and, as always, his individual sequences prove more important than the whole. Plympton's gift for variations on a theme and exploring all the possibilities of a given gag is on full display, aided by a remarkable sound design by Weston Fonger and Nicole Renaud's lovely, expressive score. With its active imagination and frequent sexual grotesqueries, Cheatin' also feels like a Russ Meyer riff — particularly the character of Jake, who's the kind of barrel-chested, thick-necked, none-too-bright galoot that populated Meyer's films. But the end result is pure Plympton.