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Hidden Gems: Don’s Plum (2001)

Don’s Plum, 2001 (Leonardo DiCaprio/Tobey Maguire) Polo Pictures

“You better fucking chew on that fear, ‘cuz it isn’t going away until you swallow it.”

Let’s say you were an amateur filmmaker, and you were inside a circle of friends about to become incredibly famous. It’s possible. There have always been leeches, hangers-on, starfuckers in the soft, sticky world of celebrity. I mean, if there’s a neck, there’s bound to be blood. How do you make the movie? Simple. You appeal to vanity. You appeal to Leonardo and Tobey, Amber and Jeremy. You tell them you want to turn on the camera and screw around, have some fun.

Problem is Don’s Plum doesn’t go anywhere. It’s supposed to be about young people. It’s supposed to recall very early, black & white Scorsese or John Cassavetes. Fire. Intensity. Passion. It goes nowhere. Let me put it this way. As I try to write this review, an odd collection of city construction vehicles pass my window. I keep getting up to look outside. We’re three days away from Christmas and it is a little after one in the morning.

There are streetsweepers going over the same spot several times for no reason. There is a steamroller, again going over the same area of street several times for no reason. These vehicles are far more interesting than Don’s Plum. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I swear this is some kind of a psychological experiment. Watching young idiots complain about grunge music and masturbation as they try to get into each other’s pants just rubs me the wrong way.

You feel like they’re too rich to care. Like they don’t have a problem in the world. What’s interesting about Don’s Plum isn’t the movie, but rather director R.D. Robb’s (and producers Dale Wheatley and David Stutman) struggle to get the movie seen in the States. For reasons I can’t fathom, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire used their collective clout to keep the movie from being seen even though it had played the festival circuit and is widely available (in illegal form) online.

Robb was friends with DiCaprio, Maguire, Amber Benson, and Jeremy Sisto and his sister, Meadow. When the actors sued Robb, they settled out of court on the proviso that the film never be seen in North America. This is strange. There’s nothing (other than the reprehensible attitudes of the characters) about the movie that would guarantee a complete publicity shut-out in the U.S. and Canada.

Yes, I suppose it’s a bad movie, but there are plenty of terrible movies that get a wide North American release. The producers even claimed to have paid the actors. There is the shuffled narrative, stream-of-consciousness horseshit indie movie, brooding confessional monologue-heavy performances. Hang on. I have to check on the steamroller. That’s nineteen passes for no reason. There’s nothing wrong with this street. What’s the point of the steamroller? 1:30 in the morning.

Back to Don and his plum. Technically, the title refers to a restaurant (Don’s Plum) where these young people congregate to demean and seduce each other. DiCaprio keeps calling Amber Benson a whore, and Amber retaliates by smashing the windshield of a car that doesn’t even belong to him. Pretend to be R.D. Robb, Wheatley, and Stutman for a minute trying to make editorial sense of this. You have a circle of friends and a camera. I’ve done it.

I usually worked in much cheaper situations. VHS camcorder. Middle of the night. It was fun, and none of my friends were famous, and I wasn’t a professional hanger-on and starfucker. Sometimes I wonder if the reason I could never succeed in Hollywood is because I just didn’t have it in me to pucker up and kiss ass. That’s what you need to do. Kiss fucking ass and be unrealistically friendly. As the ass-kisser, you’re only worth the last ass you kissed.

Robb had no intention of letting these people go. I can’t pretend these people are brilliant. Nobody’s brilliant. Everybody’s stupid and vain. I have to get up again. Heavy machinery backing up. People have to work on this block. Not everybody gets a nice holiday vacation. Not like the beautiful young people in Don’s Plum. One thing does occur to me. Benson and Maguire are actually trying, unlike everybody else.

I just feel bad the expensive 16mm stock had to be wasted in the service of making this movie. These days, DiCaprio is nothing more than a bloated bag of nonsense, a self-parody who refuses to date women over the age of 25. Weird. And I thought I was picky. I don’t know where Maguire stands. Hang on. Here comes the streetsweeper again. The street is still clean. I wonder if I’m imagining this. So Maguire. He was Spiderman for a time.

He’s interesting in that kind of spazzy Jake Gyllenhaal way; the young Renfield who eats bugs and serves Count Dracula. He’s the most interesting thing about Don’s Plum, a movie that isn’t a movie starring actors that aren’t really acting. 1:51 in the morning. More weird sounds. Go to the window. Turn these engines off and go to bed. I have an idea for a black & white 16mm movie about streetsweepers and steamrollers. It’s okay. They’re personal friends of mine. It’s two o’ clock.


David Lawler has written for Film Threat, VHS Rewind, Second Union, and his own blog, Misadventures in BlissVille. Lawler has produced several podcasts including That Twilighty Show About That Zone, Two Davids Walk Into A Bar (with co-host David Anderson), EQ Lawler/Saltz (with Alex Saltz), and Upstairs at Froelich's (with co-host John Froelich).

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