Debra J. Solomon isn’t quite Joni Mitchell, and her animated diary-musical Getting Over Him in Eight Songs or Less isn’t quite what a Bill Plympton adaptation of Blue might look like, but there are enough traces of the bruised feminism of the former and the fearless fluidity of the latter to warrant a casual comparison. The 30-minute short, which will air smarmily as part of HBO2’s Valentine’s Day lineup, propels us through the Kübler-Ross-like cycle Solomon experienced after the expiration of her marriage: She slogs from desperation to barbed self-criticism to clingy extroversion to sexual doubt to, finally, acceptance and anticipation of the future, examining each step toward newfound independence with raw candor, bulbous caricatures, and three-chord (or less) piano ditties.
Solomon’s vision isn’t terribly ambitious (the self-analysis in each respective stage of heartbreak is never any more nuanced than “I don’t know how to live without my husband” and “I think I’m gonna be okay after all”), but she compensates for her lack of complexity with an unusually likeable animating style, not to mention a mercifully brief running time. Her choppy, amorphously mobile sketches, in which corpulent characters are continually shape-shifting into anthropomorphic gender symbols and swimming in seas of nervous squiggles, may provoke comparisons to curvy, jittery Red Bull commercials, but they also resemble some of the deceptive crudity of Signe Baumane’s early work, particularly in the manner that they askewedly dote on female anatomy with pudgy, hyperrealist fascination. In one especially vulnerable number entitled “Teach Me to Be a Woman,” Solomon’s hand-drawn avatar peers up at an apartment window and sees in the svelte lower half of a nude, freshly sexed female everything she isn’t; the irony is that the anonymous Venus is only a few steps away from a plump Monty Python cutout with a shriveled head and ballooned mammaries.
While Solomon’s designs are often plucky, however, her underwritten script continually suggests an irritating dearth of thinking behind them. The sun-bathing “ideal woman” spied in the window possesses a deliriously off-kilter femininity, but rather than using her to explore how divorce can warp one’s sexual self-image, the show takes the naked chick’s faux beauty at face value: She’s just a funhouse mirror off of which Solomon can bounce her lack of self-esteem. A similar tune about online dating seems content to hint at even sexual innuendo rather than unabashedly or ribaldly investigating the healing properties of purely physical relationships. This confuses the tone of Getting Over Him to the point of murky benignness: The show doesn’t go for obvious jokes (it doesn’t, in fact, go explicitly for jokes at all, content to vaguely revel in the inherent, buried comedy of each situation), but it doesn’t essay helpful truisms either, sticking to simple articulations of self-loathing and satisfaction.
The most lucid conclusion Solomon implies about managing breakups is that they take time and private soul-searching to transcend, which makes HBO’s categorizing of the special as a “documentary” a curious one, and to which an individual currently undergoing divorce at the other end of the gender spectrum such as myself might eloquently reply, “No shit.” Getting Over Him is nothing more than the story of an unconventional divorce told through a series of occasionally shrill and never-quite-catchy-enough songs, all of which encourages us to wonder if maybe the bulk of the program should have remained unshared in its progenitor’s notebook. Solomon’s instincts at a cartoonist are impressive, down to even the most minute of domestic details (when overfilling a dishwasher with chalky detergent, it forms excitedly loveable suds on the kitchen floor and sends pinkish bubbles floating across the screen), but her mediocre singer-songwriter skills and lack of relationship trenchancy are hard to stomach amid distaff self-indulgence this flagrant.