Don’s Plum

Could they be any more immature? Long-unfinished 1995 Amer-indie "Don's Plum" finally reveals itself to be an unpleasant ensembler featuring Leonardo Di Caprio and Tobey Maguire as "bros" who gather at the titular L.A. "chill spot" with a new "hottie" in tow for a long night of coffee, French fries, intra-posse abuse and X-rated banter.

Could they be any more immature? Bearing a production date of 2000, U.S.-Danish co-prod status and enough producers to crash a cell phone grid, long-unfinished 1995 Amer-indie “Don’s Plum” finally reveals itself to be an unpleasant and tedious ensembler featuring Leonardo Di Caprio and Tobey Maguire as half of a quartet of male “bros” who gather at the titular L.A. “chill spot” each Saturday with a new “hottie” in tow for a long, raucous night of coffee, French fries, intra-posse abuse and X-rated banter.

Neither the creative disaster hinted at by the recent thesp-generated lawsuit that prohibits the film from being screened in North America nor the visionary Dogma 95-ish triumph suggested by improvisational gestation and extensive post work at Lars von Trier’s Zentropa shop, pic is more an annoying curio than anything else, displaying outdated cultural references and painfully awkward slang along with post-teen angst and whiny acting. Theatrical prospects in North America are of course zilch for the near future, although if the scandalized titters of Leo’s largely female fan base at Berlin fest screenings is any indication, pic could do well with youngsters worldwide for whom the elusive heartthrob can do no wrong. The foreign press in Berlin seemed to go for it as well, suggesting that it would play better overseas even without the legal ban.

After numerous unsuccessful encounters in a bizarre cabaret, spacey Ian (Maguire) succeeds in snagging sunny, off-duty waitress Juliet (Meadow Sisto) to tag along to meet his friends at their weekly confab. Nervous Jeremy (Kevin Connolly) brings hitchhiker Amy (Amber Benson), while moody Brad (Scott Bloom) persuades recent bedmate Sara (Jenny Lewis) to attend. Only the trash-talking Derek (DiCaprio) is unable to scare up a date after numerous pleas on a clunky cell phone, arriving stag to the semi-circular booth but soon balanced out by Sara’s cheerful friend Constance (Heather McComb).

Once seated, the fun begins. Derek promptly offends Amy so much she stalks out, smashing Jeremy’s jeep with a baseball bat. An overweight black woman walking by and a greasy mechanic at the next table are made fun of, as is their ditzy yet scheming waitress, a pair of transients, the owner, and everybody else who comes into their sphere. The expletive-filled and increasingly overcaffeinated gab includes discourses on Nirvana, masturbation, the male G-spot and sex in general. Various unprintable drinking games are played that involve the telling of truths. Sara and Constance share a deep kiss.

Would-be actor Jeremy has an odd encounter with an attractive and aggressive female producer in the after-hours club attached to the diner, while Derek (who at one point dons false teeth, through which he smokes) has a physical confrontation with Sara, who’s fighting a secret drug problem, on a secluded banquette. Brad is outed as maybe bisexual. A disagreement between Ian and Jeremy results in a predawn fistfight, after which they all wander down the deserted boulevard. Action is punctuated by brief, jagged bathroom interludes that find each character confessing or remarking on something directly into a mirror.

To hear the creative team tell it, footage was painstakingly assembled from the original three-day shoot (85%-90% improv, per Robb) and a subsequent regimen of reshoots and post-prod sessions outside Copenhagen that eventually stretched for more than a year. Resulting pic is tight enough, although the unrelentingly vicious and insensitive nature of the octet leaves little room for story structure or character development.

In light of DiCaprio’s subsequent work, it seems genuinely odd that he (along with Maguire) would object so strenuously to the film’s existence, ostensibly on the grounds that they weren’t aware a feature was being made at the time from sessions they thought were improvs. Nothing less than a younger, pre-fame sketch of his character in Woody Allen’s “Celebrity,” this is Leo the way a lot of the press cover him and the public imagine him, and is no more or less flattering than, say, his recent turn in “The Beach.” For his part, Maguire gives the most oddball line readings of the bunch, with a wide-eyed visage and spooky rhythms that hint at an emotional depth the pic around him never begins to plumb.

Tech credits are an acquired taste, with exceedingly murky B&W images around the glaringly overlit table complemented by a Dolby sound mix that can’t quite hide the hiss of the original tapes. Occasional blasts of tuneful power pop are incongruous but welcome. Although not cited onscreen, collaborative script was based in part on producer Stutman’s play “The Saturday Night Club.”

Don’s Plum

  • Production: A Polo Pictures Entertainment production, in cooperation with Trust Film Sales and Zentropa Prods.. (International sales: Trust Film Sales, Hvidovre, Denmark.) Produced by David Matthew Stutman, Dale Wheatley, Gary A. Lowe. Executive producers, Jerry Meadors, Jerry Beckman, Thomas Mai, Niels Rask Larsen, Peter Aalbaek Jensen. Co-producers: Tawd Beckman, Mathew P. Ettinger. Directed by R.D. Robb. Screenplay, Dale Wheatley, Robb, Bethany Ashton, Tawd Beckman, David Matthew Stutman.
  • Crew: Camera (B&W), Steven Adcock; editors, Nabil Mehchi, Paul Heiman; music, Blake Sennett; production designer, Lou A. Trabbe III; associate producers, Bethany Ashton, Joel Michaely. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 10, 2001. Running time: 90 MIN.
  • With: Amy - Amber Benson Brad - Scott Bloom Jeremy - Kevin Connolly Derek - Leonardo DiCaprio Sara - Jenny Lewis Ian - Tobey Maguire Constance - Heather McComb Juliet - Meadow Sisto