Review: The Planters
A masterpiece in do-it-yourself filmmaking, The Planters is a fantastically quirky movie that might make you uncertain about what you saw at first. Yet its endearing eccentricities will make you want to come back for more. It’s quite an achievement especially when you consider that the bulk of this movie was made essentially by its stars, Hannah Leder and Alexandra Kotcheff, who both give transcendent performances in addition to their extraordinary writing and direction. It’s a sensational and assured debut that makes them a duo to watch in the future.
Kotcheff plays Martha Plant, a woman living alone in the desert who is reeling from the death of her parents, spending her days selling air conditioners to others and failing miserably at it. In her spare time, she has a side gig stealing interesting items from the local thrift shop and burying them in tins for people to find. She later digs the tins up and collects the requested cash compensation. It’s a continuous cycle, until a vagrant literally runs into her life.
The vagrant is Sadie Mayflower (Leder), a woman with split personalities who infiltrates Martha’s daily routine and claims to have visions of Jesus (courtesy of some sensational stop-motion animation that has to be seen to be believed). At the same time, she manages to become a close friend as she inspires Martha to come out of her shell and get better at selling — she is on the cusp of being fired and must sell 30 air conditioners in two weeks to keep her job. This is how Martha meets Richard Cox (Phil Parolisi), one of her clients who might possibly prove to be another beacon of salvation for her. When Martha discovers she’s no longer getting the cash compensations for her tins, the three of them must figure out why.
The Planters is an exercise in oddball humor. You might not know exactly where to laugh at first, but that’s part of its charm. It has a Wes Anderson-inspired vibe of craziness (filled with quick zooms and a music score featuring percussion and drums, traits usually associated with Anderson’s films) yet it also has a style all its own. Insanity reigns and unpredictability is the order of the day. The desert setting comes through so powerfully that you can feel the heat surrounding Martha, Sadie, and Richard. This authenticity parallels the movie’s making — the actors made it over the course of 127 days in and around Palm Springs, California.
The performances are a real trip. Kotcheff brings a real playfulness to Martha that makes her wonderfully endearing. The same can be said for Leder, who shows off fabulous range as Sadie, whose split personalities are fun but are never lingered on too long to detract from the story. Their chemistry is excellent as their budding friendship blossoms throughout the story. Parolisi and Pepe Serna (playing a local priest who doesn’t think too highly of Martha) round out the cast with unique performances that highlight The Planters’ quirkiness without hitting us over the head.
As funny and entertaining The Planters is, arguably its strongest element is its music. Thomas Kotcheff (brother of Alexandra) delivers a fun and playful score that accentuates every scene and character to its full advantage, and the original songs by Phil Danyew range from funky to melancholy (“I Can’t Stand the Heat” is an absolute standout). The Planters might not be for everyone, but its music is undeniably magic.
At just under 80 minutes, The Planters doesn’t outstay its welcome. Having seen it twice, it is even better the second time around. Once you know what to expect from Leder and Kotcheff’s vision, their oddball humor casts a wicked spell on you as the laughs start tumbling out one after another.
The Planters ranks #253 out of 5,481 movies on my Flickchart.
The Planters is now playing in both selected theatres and virtual cinemas (Click here for listings) and will be available on home video and VOD December 8th.