In these troubled times, which are looking more and more like End Times for Hollywood and movies in theaters, it’s heartening to realize that whatever dies, indie cinema will endure. Movies like “The Planters” pretty much guarantee that.
An insistently oddball romp, it was cooked up by two actresses-turned first-time filmmakers, Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah Leder. It doesn’t amount to much more than some winsome smirks and a chuckle or two, but its mere existence is a delight.
And it was co-written, co-directed and co-stars the daughters pretty well-known Hollywood filmmakers. Even in Indieland, there’ll always be Hollywood nepotism to help the offspring get a leg up.
Martha (Kotcheff) is a poker-faced ponytailed loner in BFE Southern California, bicycling to and from the town’s closed general store (converted into a gift shop), obsessing over snowglobes.
Orphaned, a creature of routines, she supports herself as a telemarketing seller of Clear Breeze air conditioners. As everyone hangs up on her, it’s a good thing she has a side hustle.
Then Sadie Mayflower (Leder) drops into her life. She’s a tad off — more “off” than Martha, anyway — in a dirty wedding dress, with a helmet chained to her head. A runaway bride? Maybe. She’s just “trying to make right with Jesus.”
Martha takes her in and almost instantly almost regrets it. A call to a nearby mental hospital confirms her fears.
“Oh yeah. We’re releasing our patients. Bankrupt…slight case of embezzlement.“
The last thing Martha needs — “This is why I don’t ‘do’ people.”
But Sadie is upbeat, and starts coaching Martha on her cold-calls, where she befriends a lonely older man who doggone it, will be the first ever to buy a Clear Breeze air conditioner from her. So Martha confides in Sadie about her side hustle — which involves a shovel, old fashioned candy and cookie tins and trips into the desert, down the beach, beside the railroad tracks.
“I bury treasure for the lucky person who gets to it first!”
Sadie is confused, has hallucinations involving Biblical figures inside the tins (stop-motion clay animated crucifixion and Red Sea parting scenes). And that’s when Martha first picks up on the fact that Sadie is multitudes. There’s more than one person/personality tumbling around in that sometimes-helmeted head.
Kotcheff and Leder play off each other wonderfully — deadpan vs. bubbly, infantile or in one incarnation — profane drunk. The timing in their dueling eccentrics exchanges is quick and quirky.
As odd and mismatched as they are, introducing a third character (Phil Parolisi) doesn’t add much save for stirring the conflict up just a smidge.
As I said at the outset, “The Planters” doesn’t add up to much. But the mere fact that it summons up the oddballery of many a prior indie comedy — the works of Wes Anderson and others — is its best recommendation.
Winning laughs and grins by association is fair play.
MPA Rating: unrated, profanity
Credits: Scripted and directed by Alexandra Kotcheff, Hannah Leder. A 1091 release.
Running time: 1:19