AFI Fest 2019 Review: The Planters

Written by Michael Frank

Making a movie requires patience, money, time, and a huge amount of effort. Most movies will have dozens to hundreds of cast and crew members, from actors to cinematographers to makeup artists to costume designers. Calling it a “massive endeavor” might even be an understatement.

For the new indie film The Planters, there was no crew on set. All of the filming, acting, directing, writing, and everything else that comes with making a movie fell on Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah Leder. Kotcheff and Leder also star in this quirky comedy about a telemarketer named Martha Plant (Kotcheff) living in the middle of nowhere. Her life is turned upside down when she meets Sadie Mayflower (Leder), a sometimes bubbly woman with multiple personality disorder.

Martha and Sadie become fast friends, possibly because they are two of only a few people even living in this world that these filmmakers have created. More than anything, The Planters is an achievement in teamwork, collaboration, and grassroots filmmaking. Making a movie is great feat on its own. Making a movie with no crew, a small cast, and two women doing every single role is an incredible and impressive accomplishment.

The film itself does the job. If you know the background of the filmmakers, the cinematography and set design makes much more sense. The wide, unmoving shots allow the actresses to come in and out of the frame. The setting amazes due to natural beauty and simple aesthetics. It won’t blow you away, but you realize quickly that you’re watching a gorgeous film. They might borrow from the likes of Wes Anderson, but these filmmakers still make it their own.

We follow Martha as she shows Sadie the ropes with her air conditioner sales job and her side hustle as a planter, in which she puts old trinkets in tin cans in exchange for a small profit. Sadie helps Marth with her sales, and Martha gives Sadie a new friend and a new home. The characters’ backstories reveal themselves bit by bit, but we never learn tons about either of the lead characters. We know pieces, but not the full story, but we don’t need to. It’s a story about these women together together, not these women apart.

Though ridiculous at times, Kotcheff and Leder lean into the farce, embracing the weirdness of the script. Their acting is an admirable effort, but the side characters of Martha’s love interest and air-conditioner-owner Richard (Phil Parolisi) and local priest Jesus (Pepe Serna) steal the show. Richard, in particular, breaths a quippy, confused character onto the screen, giving us multiple reasons to laugh.

Without the backstory, The Planters might boil down to another quirky indie comedy. Once you know the great lengths these women conquered to make this film happen, The Planters makes you smile. It represents what we can accomplish with partnership, limited resources, and a big goal. These women have done something that most people can only wish for: they’ve made a movie, and a good one at that.

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