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THE PLANTERS (2019) review

October 23, 2020


written by: Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah Leder
produced by: Alexandra Kotcheff, Hannah Leder and Jacqueline Beiro
directed by: Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah Leder
rated: not rated
runtime: 78 min.
U.S. release date: October 23, 2020 (virtual cinema/Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL) & December 8, 2020 (limited)


It’s not always fair to describe a film by comparing it to other films (although it can be fun or challenging), but sometimes it’s the best why to give others an idea of what’s in store for them, but just because “The Planters” lands somewhere between a Jared Hess movie or the films of Wes Anderson, doesn’t mean it’s exactly like them. The term “quirky” is used ad nauseum to describe Anderson’s films, so I’d prefer not to add that descriptor to this unusual and whimsical comedy that comes to us from the minds and energy of Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah Leder, a duo with great chemistry who not only portray the two leads, but they also served as writer and  producers.

That in and of itself is impressive, and while there are times where interest in the overall story wanes, the performances and characters, along with the cinematography are memorable and visually striking.

Awkward and introverted Martha Plant (Alexandra Kotcheff) lives alone in a desert town after the recent loss of her parents. They left her the house she lives in – from which she unsuccessfully works as a telemarketer selling air conditioners – and in it is a room where decorative tins are shelved. She frequents a local thrift store where she lifts random objects that she stores in these tins, and curiously buries them (hence the title) in the desert with her trusty shovel next to coordinates posted on signs. She receives encouragement by treasure hunters, who send her payments for her to continue this hobby.

One day, Sadie Mayflower (Hannah Leder) comes into Martha’s life and somehow manages to persuade her to take her in, offering this intriguing stranger with an orange suitcase a place to live after leaving a nearby mental hospital. While the chatty and outgoing Sadie gradually influences Martha to change her distant monotone delivery with customers, Martha soon discovers that she has to deal with Sadie’s unexpected multiple personalities which vary greatly in age and attitude.



While it may be their first full-length feature together, the talent and filmmaking prowess on display from Kotcheff and Leder is undeniable. There’s an obvious low-budget indie feel to the film, yet the duo make the most of their limited locations (Martha’s home, the thrift store, and sparse exterior desert shots) and they show a confident hand at directing as well as a commanding screen presence.

The highlight of the film is watching what both of them do with their respective roles. As Martha, it’s fun to watch Kotcheff dryly inhabit a character who’s job it is to connect and persuade people over the phone with absolutely zero enthusiasm. Her character’s main dilemma comes when her boss gives her an ultimatum to sell a set number of AC units due to her awful sales record. Initially, we see her go through the motions of a tedious job that she clearly doesn’t like and it’s a good thing to see her isolation interrupted by Sadie. Leder certainly has more to work with here, unpredictably embodying different personalities, vacillating from a 4-year-old child named Emma who has trouble controlling her bowels to a withdrawn adult alcoholic named Angie. It’s alarming for Martha, who has to act as a sort of guardian to Sadie, while at the same time learning from Sadie who to be more personable and empathetic on the phone. More than once, I thought about how it must’ve been difficult to keep a straight face on the set, especially for Kotcheff having to play it straight while Leder spins circles with her Sadie’s dissociative identity disorder.



“The Planters” could’ve just been about how these two diametrically different people impact each other, but Kotcheff and Leder write a couple more characters in and add more creativity to the mix, for better or worse. There’s a local priest, Jesus (Pepe Serna) that they interact with, offering some interesting (but not integral) conversations, and there’s the strange addition of Richard (Phil Parolisi), one of Martha’s regular phone customers that she meets in person, who winds up moving in with the two women. The addition of the two men really doesn’t add much to the story. On the other hand, the stop-motion animated sequences that bring to life the biblical visions Sadie sees when she looks into Martha’s tins, offer a dash of variety to the story. These moments add to the whimsy of the film, fitting along nicely with the two idiosyncratic lead characters we follow.

Kotcheff and Leder have been acting since they were children (and judging by their filmography, they likely met on the set of 2000’s “Pay It Forward”, the last film Kotcheff acted in) and four years ago committed to making a film together. The two grabbed the reigns of production, not wanting any studio interference and took a DIY approach to the project. Considering the pedigree they come from – Kotcheff’s father Ted, directed “First Blood” and “Weekend at Bernie’s” and Leder’s mother helmed “Deep Impact”, “Pay It Forward” and the recent “On the Basis of Sex” – it’s no wonder there’s a level of cinematic boldness on display.

However entertaining “The Planters” is probably depends on your threshold for quirk. The feature could’ve benefited from delving a bit more into the human connection between the Martha and Sadie, possibly providing more dimension to their characters. Nevertheless, there’s enough weirdness and deadpan humor present to make the whole affair an enjoyable viewing experience. It definitely left me interesting in whatever film endeavors come next for Kotcheff and Leder.


RATING: **1/2





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