Don DeLillo's White Noise features a miracle drug that literalizes the meaning of words for the user: If someone yells, “Fusillade of bullets!” the terrified patient dives frantically for cover. In Bill Plympton's intoxicating new animated feature, I Married a Strange Person, a dronelike accountant named Grant has the same problem backward. A lobe develops in his brain, and thereafter his every thought is instantly made real before his astounded eyes. His germophobic mother-in-law is overwhelmed by roaches, his neighbor's overmown lawn rises up against the tyranny of its owner, and Grant's sex life is markedly enriched by his newfound ability to transform at will his wife Kerry's hair color, breast size and degree of sexual rapaciousness.
But the lobe is coveted by the fascistic disinfotainment conglomerate Smile Corp., which sees it as a steppingstone to a 100 percent market share, and by its security chief, General Ferguson, a comic-opera Greek Colonel more concerned with its military applicability. In the demented battle of the dreamers that makes up Strange Person's second half, Grant's nowhere-scape of a neighborhood becomes a malign subdivision of Pepperland as reconceived by Francis Bacon and Big Daddy Roth. Grant's enemies have to deal with a man who can turn the general into a reptile, make his howitzers fire hoagies and force his tanks to hump one another to a standstill.
There's an almost drunken exhilaration to Plympton's animation, which features vertiginous alterations in perspective, queasy foreshortenings and a mania for soaring away from and plummeting back into the narrative fray. Grant's square-shouldered everyman flickers with jittery pencil strokes that cast a Kafkaesque fug of unease over his antlike existence. The suburban backgrounds rely on corn-and-maize yellows and ambers that evoke Hopper, Wyeth and Hart Benton – and the all-American neuroses and resentments that drove them. Smile Corp., by contrast, is all gargantuan bulk, right angles and solipsistic brutalism in the Speer mode.
Over all this Plympton superimposes E.C. Comics bloodletting, much genially dirty-minded sex, and a Gilliamesque sympathy for the little guy with outsize dreams. I Married a Strange Person is a showdown between the opposing values of the two quotations Plympton uses to preface the movie: Picasso's “Good taste is the enemy of creativity” – Plympton's bumper-sticker cri de coeur – and Hermann Goring's “When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver.” So, a serious endeavor at heart – a meditation on the uses and misuses of the newly liberated imagination, whether by the scorched-earth capitalist, the narrow-eyed totalitarian or the horny suburban dreamer – but one offering 50 jokes a second, a great soundtrack and a bottomless well of lysergic wit and invention.