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Idiots and Angels
Time Out New York Project: Issue #784, October 7-13, 2010
Dir. Bill Plympton. 2008. N/R. 78mins.
In some respects, Idiots and Angels shows legendary independent animator Bill Plympton at the top of his game. The simple setup (a killjoy nine-to-fiver grows a pair of angel wings that force him to do good) and complete lack of dialogue (it’s mainly guttural groans — the prole’s lament) allow the writer-director’s imagination to run wild. A brilliant early sequence follows our sourpuss protagonist’s rank-and-file morning routine, tracing a perspective-obliterating path from shampoo to shaving cream to milk poured on cereal. It’s cutting satire, and Plympton’s pencil-scratch visuals give the sequence just the right touch of morbid hilarity. As long as he sticks to vignettes like this, the film is a riot.
But then the wings begin blooming out of our hero’s back (a striking series of images squeezed for every ounce of sexual panic), and from there, the plot starts to weigh things down. A crazy doctor and a greedy bartender want the celestial feathers for themselves. A shapely blond beauty comes between all of them. Blood flows with too-grotesque abandon, and there’s a halfhearted stab at redemption for the lead character, who’s more interesting when he’s a curmudgeon. You get the sense Plympton could have made a few masterful shorts out of this material. Stretched to feature length, however, the story loses its subversive luster.—Keith Uhlich