Review by Mark Schwab
I had heard about the (in)famous 1996 movie Don's Plum for quite awhile now. For many years, it was one of those "lost" films like Jerry Lewis' magnum misfire The Day The Clown Cried where it was made with famous people but not available to see. Well such was Don's Plum, a no-budget film shot in six days starring a relatively unknown Leonardo DiCaprio and (at the time) an almost totally unknown Tobey Maguire. The film has a tortured legal history stemming from DiCaprio and Maguire successfully suing the director to keep it from ever being shown commercially in the United States and Canada. Director RD Robb did win a small victory by being allowed to distribute the film abroad (it premiered at the 2001 Berlin Film Festival).
Rumors abounded with this oddity; DiCaprio played a gay character and sported full frontal nudity, the movie was disgusting and incompetent, Maguire's performance was embarrassing, the rare bootleg copies had cut scenes, no music track and timecodes running at the bottom of the frame...it all fueled the fire of curiosity as to why lawsuits were used to supress this little indie film. And when I'm told I can't see a film...I don't care if it is Marguerite Duras and Gerard Depardieu spending 76 minutes on the side of the road reading a script while a truck circles them (in Duras' 1977 film The Lorry)...I want to see the damn thing so I can make my own diagnosis.
Well now I can and the fact is that Don's Plum is a fascinating avant-garde piece that gets under the skin and offers a rare glimpse of talented actors and actresses right at the start of knowing how to exercise their abilities and given free reign to do so (according to RD Robb, about 80% of the film is improvised by the cast).
There isn't exactly a lot of plot here - four male friends meet every Saturday night at a hash house/dive bar in L.A. called Don's Plum to just hang out and shoot the shit. They also always each try and bring someone along - preferably a "chick" - I think in order to keep them from being too truthful with each other. A good chunk of the film is eight young actors arguing about sex, masturbation, homosexuality, drugs and more sex. As the night turns to early moring, things get messier and secrets come out against the character's better judgements.
Some viewers simply dismissed this as a vanity piece mired in pretnetion but I strongly disagree. There is much to be plumbed about Don's Plum from the idea of young friendships to sexual hang ups to expressing hypermasculinity in order to mask repressed feelings (there is a lot of "bro" thrown around) to a simple snapshot of pure mid-90's arrogance. It's shot in grainy 16mm reversal film with a tinny dialogue track and yet I could not take my eyes off the screen. It also benefits from repeat viewings (I've seen it twice and caught many lines I'd missed on the first pass).
For their parts, DiCaprio and Maguire are terrific with DiCaprio playing a younger version of his self-obsessed movie star in Woody Allen's Celebrity and Maguire creates such an unusual character here that I dare say it is his best performance outside of Wonder Boys.
I'll admit this movie may not be for eveyone - it is kind of like a Warhol film directed by a USC film graduate - but it takes risks, has a great cast and you'll laugh out loud a number of times although you might be the only one in the audience doing so. All of this makes Don's Plum the epitome of a "diamond in the rough" film.