Saturday, June 8, 2013

DON’S PLUM (2001)

LEONARDO DICAPRIO; TOBEY MAGUIRE; and DOES 1 through 25, Inclusive, Defendants.
Case Number B C189400. 


FILED Los Angeles Superior Court
Apr. 14, 1998.


(Excerpt from The Smoking Gun)

      “Two young actors, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire were anxious to make a film with a group of their friends. They induced plaintiff to make the film and agreed to act in it. Plaintiff made the film, employing DiCaprio, Maguire and a group of their friends as actors and another of their friends as director. DiCaprio expressed great enthusiams for the completed film. But, later, although plaintiff had done everything he had promised, Maguire and DiCaprio decided to “stop” the film for their own egomaniacal purposes. Using DiCaprio’s “clout” as a newly anointed “superstar,” they carried out a fraudulent and coercive campaing to prevent release of the film and destroy its value, depriving not only plaintiff, but also numerous members of the cast and crew, of the proceeds of exploiting the film for which they had labored and on which they had relied.”

In 1995, future superstars DiCaprio and Maguire joined a large cast of other soon-to-be-famous actors, including Amber Benson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Drones), Kevin Connolly (“E” from Entourage), Jenny Lewis (actress and member of band Rilo Kiley), Scott Bloom (“FBI Agent #3” from Smoking Aces (and “Jesse” from Who’s the Boss), Heather McComb (the first mutant “Jubilee” as seen in Generation X) and Meadow Sisto (Captain Ron), whose young brother, Jeremy Sisto (May, Suburgatory), appears in a brief cameo at the beginning of the film, literally kicking Benson out of his car (thus winning no points from Amberholics). Cameo appearances include My Name is Earl’s Ethan Suplee, Nikki Cox (who’s part is so brief, she must’ve been Connolly’s ride that night), and Byron Thames (young Johnny Dangerously) as the titular Don. Not to mention Gaffer and Key Grip “Cool Breeze” as “the Slappee”. The whole thing was written by Bethany Ashton, Tawd Hackman, David Stutman, and Dale Wheatley and directed by A Christmas Story’s Schwartz (the kid who doesn’t get his tongue stuck to a pole or go on to do porn), R.D. Robb, who also contributed to the script. Which was then, apparently, thrown away in favor of heavy improv. 

Originally a short titled The Saturday Night Club, additional scenes were shot a year later in order to bring the running time to feature length. Don’s Plum plays like a post-modern and very unsentimental version of Diner, about a quartet of fellows who enjoy bringing new female companions to the titular restaurant/bar, and hope to impress them with their candor, coolness and brilliance. The movie begins with Ian (Maguire) sitting in a jazz club, not listening to admittedly cool Toledo Diamond and his dancers, begging the likes of Marissas Ribisi and Ryan (married to Sisto at the time), to come with him to meet his friends. Similarly, Derek (DiCaprio) is similarly striking out after calling half a dozen people with his friend’s paving brick-sized portable phone. Eventually, Ian convinces waitress Juliet (Meadow Sisto) to accompany him. Derek arrives solo.

Brad (Bloom) has just had casual sex with Sara (Lewis) and she joins him in the increasingly-crowded booth. Budding actor Jeremy (Connelly) comes to “hippie chick” Amy’s (Benson) rescue. And finally Constance, Sara’s lesbian (or bisexual) stalker, joins the party. Together they harass poor Flo the Ditzy Waitress (Stephanie Cambria – billed as Stephanie Friedman), brazenly mock the other patrons, worry Don the owner, break up and incite fist fights between themselves and others. Mostly, what they do is talk, doing their best to shock and awe the potential paramours.

But much to their surprise, the girls are easily their matches—if not betters—in terms of conversational raunch, insult and psychobabble. Discussions range from whether women masturbate, a male’s “anal g-spot” and how to stimulate it, why it’s less acceptable for men to be bisexual than women (because of the whole “AIDS thing”). This latter point of view is initiated by Sara, just after she cavalierly makes out with Constance, and amazingly enough is shouted down as being “narrow” by Ian and Derek. Even though, later, Derek outs Brad as bi in front of the others, either intentionally or un-.

Before and after all of this, Derek and Amy take an instant dislike to each other, resulting in her hurling a birkenstock at him (allegedly a serious throw as the shoe broke on impact with said target’s cranium) as she storms out and takes a bat to Jeremy’s jeep. Having already been abused by Sisto, she is obviously under extreme duress. Jeremy makes a very positive impression on a movie producer (co-producer Bethany Ashton Wolf), Derek is provoked into making a very personal confession that almost explains his misogyny, and every character has brief “bathroom interludes” where they reveal their true selves (why they’re there despite disliking the group, whether they’re worth loving, various bouts of ethical self-loathing).
Shot in high-contrast black and white, the movie has an immediate and familiar feel to it. Again, this is no Diner, nor are the characters cut from the Harmony Korine Kids cloth. As a group, they’re rattled when the stranger, Amy, calls them out for being shallow and crude. The guys care about each other’s friendship, but their ribbing of each other is far from harmless—best displayed during a variation of “I’ve Never” called “Fuck You Because”. There are underlying glimpses of insecurity, uncertainty, confusion (sexual and otherwise) and an overall sense of aimlessly trying to connect with people outside of their little group.

Don’s Plum is at turns ingratiating and grating, a ruderless Clerks talkfest with some moments of truth peppered in amongst the put downs, “fuck you”s and “bro”s (DiCaprio’s Derek ends every sentence with “bro”, no matter who he’s talking to). Anyone watching either knows someone like these characters or has been (and might still be) like these characters. They’re just kids hanging out on a Saturday night who “think they’re kings” (according to Flo during one of her “bathroom interludes” where she reveals that the “sexy ditz” thing is all an act) but really have no place in the world at the current time. Maybe that will change sooner than later, maybe for some, particularly Derek, that change will never come at all.

But when you get right down to it, Don’s Plum only stands out in its sea of Generation X “Decade of the Indie” movies because of its cast. If it weren’t for the presences of DiCaprio, Maguire and Benson, and the ensuing controversy that followed, Don’s Plum would be off the radar in the same way as Reality Bites and Threesome. As far as the two main leads go, you don’t see much in the way of future brilliance. They both have an unmistakable presence, but Connelly is the more animated character. And all of the guys are put to shame by the women, many of whom aren’t even acting much today. Lewis, as Sara, does the most to carve out a character, but Sisto and McComb are more appealing, laughing at the limp machismo and shock talk. The main tragedy, and I’m not saying this just as a Benson devotee, is that the hippie chick Amy’s part in the film is too brief. It’s understandable that someone so offended by Derek’s hatred of women (and the others’ tolerance of his rudeness) would storm off and find a new ride to Vegas, but it would have been interesting if Amy had stayed with the group in spite of herself, to further interject the complete outsider’s point of view. After a while, the group just solidifies in circular argument, breaking up into exhausted animosity, but real antagonism stops when Amy exits.

Still, it was a movie starring a number of soon-to-be superstars and was interesting enough to hold attention. But just prior to its prospective premiere at Sundance and possible pick-up from Miramax, Maguire and DiCaprio apparently sabotaged the film. According to the lawsuit brought against them (and later dropped) by the producers, initial screenings were met with enthusiasm by DiCaprio and the rest of the cast. Then, as told in paragraph 9:

“Meanwhile, Maguire and his manager had determined that, in the Film, Maguire did not come off as strong a “leading man” as DiCaprio and that some of the improvisational comments Maguire had made durng the Film revealed personal experiences or tendencies that would undermine the public image he and his manager were trying to project. Accordingly, they set out to do everything in their power to stop the Film. Maguire used his long and close relationship with DiCaprio to cause DiCaprio to join him in a campaign to prevent release of the Film. Maguire carefully kept his plan a secret from Plaintiff, telling Plaintiff, like DiCaprio, that he really, really liked the film and though it was “great”.”

Later in the lawsuit, it describes how Maguire got in Robb’s face and screamed that he was taking advantage of their fame and decried the producers for trying to exhibit the film, going so far as to strong arm distributors, not the least of which the House that Indie Built, Miramax. Personally, while I’ve never met either of the gentlemen, I doubt if I were screamed at by Tobey Maguire I’d be able to keep a straight face. I mean, really, he’s what now? In his 60s? And he still looks like a teenager. And even though DiCaprio already had an Oscar nom under his belt, neither of these guys would have been able to pull off this sort of obstructionism if not for one little thing: Titanic, another little indie that could. Released in 1997, James Cameron put these words in DiCaprio’s mouth (before finally uttering them himself at the Academy Awards): “I’m king of the world!”

While Maguire wasn’t yet endowed with Peter Parker clout, DiCaprio pretty much punched his own ticket after Titanic, and if his lil buddy Tobey wasn’t happy with Don’s Plum, then by-golly no one else would be either. Neither of the stars have spoken much publically about the debacle, what is known is that they were sued twice, once by Stutman and again by another producer named John Schindler. The first was dropped and the second was settled with the upshot being that the film would not be released or distributed in the United States or Canada. Lars Von Trier’s Zentropa Films wound up as the highest bidder for distribution (which is where the copious bootlegs originate) and it premiered to equal parts huzzahs and derision at the 2001 Berlin Film Festival.

It’s the controversy that’s driven the continuing interest in the film. Between the lawsuits and the restricted release the press made sure to keep curious the prurient and conjecture yellow. Fer instance:

LEO'S GAY FILM PAST ON SHOW; Cannes date for movie he tried to ban. “Leo, currently starring in The Beach with Robert Carlyle, is Hollywood's biggest male sex symbol. But his private life has been dogged by rumours he is gay.”

And this bit from the obsessive and exhaustive A DON’S PLUM PAGE:

“According to numerous sources of ours (at least five), during the film, which was shot in a very free-form fashion, with the actors and actresses improvising much of the dialogue, Tobey's character, "Ian," who is allegedly based on Tobey himself, asks whether or not any of the others who hang out in his group at their favorite diner, "Don's Plum," get off by inserting their pinky fingers . . . ah . . . rectally within themselves while . . . ah . . . er . . . achieving orgasm during sex? (Which is not of course, how Tobey/Ian phrases it!) What follows is a conversation which not only grosses out some of his fellow characters, but (allegedly) also grossed out some of his cast mates, as well.

"SO! Just what does Tobey like to do at the moment of "the little death," and with whom does Tobey like to do it? Frankly, we have no idea, but the consensus seems in on what the Tobey-like character of "Ian" likes. The verdict is still out as to whether or not Ian actually got it on with "Derek" (Leonardo DiCaprio's character), but, as we have said, by all reputable reports which we have received, Leo really liked the first screening of Don's Plum, and only turned against the film when his good buddy Tobey got upset that hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people would be listening in on "Ian's" pinky sex conversation.”

There were also wildly imaginative explanations: 

"At this point Don's Plum became a bit of a Hollywood legend: what exactly was in it that the actors didn't want America to see? Some news outlets covering the court case described Don's Plum as "the story of a young man exploring all kinds of sexuality and human emotion," which featured "Leonardo DiCaprio as a bisexual who appears nude in one scene." Adjectives like "sexy" and "steamy" were liberally thrown around, making it seem like this was the next Pamela Anderson/Tommy Lee tape." (

 Strangely, the most bizarre tidbit might be the closest to the truth: “The actors have said they made the film as a favor to a friend, under the agreement that it would never be promoted as a feature-length movie.”

Unlike the gossip-rag reporting, doing a film under the condition it never be seen actually employs Hollywood Logic. Certainly, it makes less human sense than buyer’s guilt over a film that may out two big stars as having “experimented” with each other or others—Tobey’s “Ian” is certainly quick to jump to Brad’s defense of having been “outed” as bi—Hollywood Logic is far more Machiavellian and supports both Maguire’s alleged accusation that Robb and the producers were rubbing their hands over having a “lost” film involving the stars of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and The Cider House Rules, as well as said-stars managers, agents, entourages and hangers-on wanting to protect the carefully crafted heart-throb reputations of their respective pots of gold.
As my esteemed Film Threat colleague, Phil Hall, wrote in his analysis of Don’s Plum

“In retrospect, the idea of doing a no-budget black-and-white movie as a favor with the promise that the film never get shown seems a bit odd, especially since DiCaprio was already established as an Oscar-nominated movie star (Maguire’s fame took a little longer to secure). […] According to both Stutman and Schindler’s respective lawsuits, DiCaprio and Maguire used their influence to shoo away major distributors, with the alleged threat that neither actor would work with any company that picked up the film. In fairness, it seems strange given that “Don’s Plum” would not be considered as multiplex material given its style and substance. One could imagine a smaller boutique distributor expressing interest, but a Hollywood studio would probably balk at the flick even with its well-known stars.” 
All in all, this is all sound and fury over what amounts to very little. If you’re seeking out Don’s Plum to see embryonic genius from the two bad boys of law suits now that The Great Gatsby has captured the hearts and wallets of the American public, you’re going to be disappointed. While I wouldn’t go as far as to declare them “awful” as Phil does, neither are very interesting, unless you’re impressed with Leo’s ability to be, simultaneously, a sympathetic scumbag. The girls steal the show right out from under the power players anyway and the film’s delay certainly didn’t hurt any careers, except maybe that of poor Schwartz, who hasn’t done much of anything since. Certainly not any directing.  As the Daily Telegraph reported from Berlin:

"Yeah, it's a divorce," Robb managed to say between phrases of lawyer-speak like "We want to put this misunderstanding behind us." Constrained by a gag order not to discuss the settlement, a cheerful Robb got a kick out of his inquisition-style handling at the press conference.” (16.02.01 SF Said reports from the Berlin Film Festival”)


And, hell, you can see the whole movie here:

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