October 18, 1998
sidebar: He Blows 'Em Up Real Good
An Interview with Bill Plympton
Animator Bill Plympton focuses in on a man whose imagination can transform the world.
by Sam Adams
A Strange Person
Produced, animated and directed by Bill Plympton
A Lions Gate Films release
Opening Friday, Oct. 2, at the Roxy Theater
It's not quite right to say animator Bill Plympton pushes the boundaries of good taste; you have to be near the boundary to push it. With a child's abandon and an adult's libido, Plympton has been thrusting himself onto the big screenwith only colored pencils between his id and the celluloidsince 1985. The title character of I Married a Strange Personthe strange person, not the "I"is Grant, a man who suddenly acquires the power to make the real world conform to his imagination, a power he either can't or won't control. Even though this square-jawed hero looks a lot less like the carrot-topped, kind-faced Plympton than some of his other protagonists, the sheepish grin on his face when he knows he's gone too far is most assuredly his creator's, a guilty smile that makes no apologies, only promises to try a little harder next time not to get caught.
In Bill Plympton's world, flesh is infinitely malleable, and that flexibility becomes the occasion for obscenely funny vignettes on the twin themes of sex and violence (actually the title of one of Plympton's shorts). Like Tex Avery after watching too many driver's ed movies, Plympton loves to show the human body being twisted, mangled or otherwise deformed, like watching a desperate stand-up comic juggle his own internal organs to get a laugh.
Plympton's previous feature, The Tune (1992), used a struggling songwriter's quest for success as the frame story for a somewhat loosely bound collection of set pieces, from musical numbers to segments that had already been exhibited as short subjects on their own. While enjoyable enough in a modest way, the movie lacked the bite of Plympton's best work, and the sequences that did work, such as one in which two suit-clad men devise increasingly intricate means of destroying each other, seemed so disconnected from the story that their arbitrary placement was distracting. By contrast, Strange Person is a much more tightly focused affairkeeping in mind that "focus" is not a term that gets applied to Plympton all that much.
Grant first acquires his strange abilities when a pair of mating birds do an orgasmic nosedive into his satellite dish, its redirected beam causing a mysterious lump to appear on the back of his neck. Kerry, his wife, is the first to notice odd things happening around the house, like when she complains that the phone has "gone dead" only to have it turn to bones in her hand. Grant tries to control himself for the sake of their marriage, but his power is too strong. His in-laws use his increasingly odd behavior as an excuse to further their already established dislike of him, but Kerry isn't so sure; his powers do make for great sex, even if it is a little disconcerting when he turns her into three other women or makes her breasts grow 50 feet long.
After Grant uses his powers to get himself booked on a late-night talk show, he draws the attention of the Smile Corporation, a giant broadcasting conglomerate run by the slippery Larson Giles. Short on ideas for their new season, Smile Corp. mobilizes their sizable military fleetled by the towering Colonel Fergusonto capture Grant and discover the secret to his abilities, which sets in motion a chase plot which occupies about half of Strange Person's running time. Of course, Grant uses his powers to escape (and escape and escape) from the colonel and his minions, each defense more ingenious than the last. (Without giving too much away, one of Grant's stratagems involves having two tanks develop a sudden attraction for each other.)
If some of Plympton's shtick sounds sophomoric or adolescent, he'd probably take those terms as complimentshe's not trying to offend, but he's obviously not shy about what he thinks is funny. Even at a brisk 75 minutes, Strange Person is a little shaggy at timesthat chase scene seems to go on foreverbut Plympton is a true original, and it's hard to get enough of that.