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From its barrage of close-ups where people open and close whimsical boxes to its overly affected characters behaving and talking like no one ever has or will in real-life, The Planters is an unrepentant Wes Anderson homage with slightly more explicit disrespect for the mentally ill.
Discontent with simply writing, directing, and starring in their first endeavor, Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah Leder made the whole shebang without a crew. Does that fact directly impact the quality of the film itself? No. Is that fact neat? Sorta, yeah! “Sorta, yeah!” is the answer to a lot of questions about The Planters, as it can come after queries like:
- “Is it funny?”
- “Is it annoying?”
- “Is it heartwarming?”
- “Is it offensive?”
The film follows Martha (Kotcheff), a generically odd woman who is very bad at selling air-conditioners, which is only a problem because that’s her job. One day, while burying treasures in a desert to be found by a stranger, Martha meets Sadie (Leder). Sadie has dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder, which is a real condition that people have, just in case you forgot that after the umpteenth time a movie has used it as a punchline or plot point. Martha, Sadie and her other personalities, and the much older but equally socially bonkers Richard (Phil Parolisi) soon find themselves living together in a small house, negotiating their capital-A Awkward relationships.
First things first: Kotcheff and Leder absolutely have the goods. Their performances crackle; the wink-and-nod, derivative visuals are on par with any quirk-heavy indie; and the meandering script is quick in both length and content. The scattershot tone is also a delight, as it peppers in jet-black dark humor, religious satire, and quasi-“Who’s on First?” patter.
That said, Anderson’s schtick is, itself, growing ever-more tiresome. Thus, watching a well-intended riff on his work feels spectacularly unnecessary. Still, if Anderson and Quentin Tarantino can make storied, beloved careers out of pilfering works most white folks haven’t seen and calling their movies “homages,” Kotcheff and Leder absolutely have the right to do the same.
The big problem is Sadie. Somehow, her different personas feel even more upsetting than something like James McAvoy’s in Split. Sure, McAvoy’s character is positioned as a literal supervillain, but something about presenting this disorder as a bucket full of twee seems worse. To be clear, The Planters isn’t outright malicious or anything. But casually warping an incarnation of the manic pixie dreamgirl into someone with multiple personalities is icky.
A classic “mileage will vary” movie, this is a brief bit of stilted weirdness that will delight many, upset some, and do a bit of both to most. The take-home message here is that the women who made this film hopefully have a spectacular future ahead of them that is less muddled and awkwardly upsetting than what they dug up with The Planters.
Grade = C+
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Carolyn Mauricette from View From the Dark loved it, saying “The Planters shows us how the reward of connecting with unlikely people just might enrich our lives.” She also strongly disagrees on the film’s handling of mental illness, suggesting the film handles it with kindness and care.
Lisa Trifone of Third Coast Review agrees that Kotcheff and Leder succeed in “establishing themselves as a new generation of artists who, like those before them, have their elders to thank for creative inspiration.”
Tessa Smith of Mama’s Geeky says the film not only channels Anderson but Taika Waititi, calling it one of her favorites of 2020.