Plimpton's Progress

Plimpton's Progress

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Nov 16th 2017

Thirty-two years ago, her greatest fame was as one of The Goonies (1985). As she today turns 47, Martha Plimpton has become so much more: a stage and screen actress of distinction with three Tony® and two Emmy® nominations and an Emmy® win under her belt, an abortion and LGBT rights activist, and a prolific audiobook narrator. The lady also sings, and does so in movie theaters now with style and abandon in the feature film adaptation of the sexy Michael John LaChiusa musical Hello Again, holding her own opposite powerhouse performers like Audra McDonald, Sam Underwood, Cheyenne Jackson, T.R. Knight, Rumer Willis, Jenna Ushkowitz and Nolan Gerard Funk. Her post-Goonies early-career period is rich with standout work as outspoken, somewhat dreamy adolescents among starry ensembles: Shy People (1987, directed by Andrei Konchalovsky), Parenthood (1989, directed by Ron Howard) and two which paired her romantically and heartrendingly with good pal River Phoenix: The Mosquito Coast (1986, directed by Peter Weir) and particularly Running on Empty (1988, directed by Sidney Lumet). From this productive time are small but affecting roles as disaffected daughters in two additional gems with talented on- and behind-the-camera colleagues worth a callout. Woody Allen’s Another Woman (1988) is an absorbing study of philosophy scholar Marian (Gena Rowlands), whose rigidly orderly routine and prestigious educational accomplishments have blinded her to her lack of human connection, forcing her to come to terms with the emotional damage she might have inflicted on family (John Houseman, Harris Yulin), friends (Blythe Danner, Sandy Dennis, Frances Conroy) and the writer (Gene Hackman) who truly and passionately loves her, as opposed to the men she married (Philip Bosco, Ian Holm). Plimpton plays her troubled stepdaughter, with whom Marian’s self-perceived, much-valued bond turns out to be something of a sham because, in an unguarded moment, Marian discovers she’s been thought “too judgmental.” In just three sequences, Plimpton makes a vital impression as a character that may be secondary but whose revelations are primary to the film’s major theme about whether one can course-correct later in life. Plimpton’s family situation in Stanley & Iris (1990), the final film directed by Martin Ritt and freely adapted from Pat Barker’s novel Union Street by long-time Ritt collaborators Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr., is more hand-to-mouth and blue-collar. The main story covers the growing romantic attraction between and potential for reciprocal regeneration shared by bakery plant worker Iris (Jane Fonda) and cafeteria cook Stanley (Robert De Niro). Each faces tough burdens: recent widow Iris is the beleaguered sole support of a crowded household: unemployed sister Sharon (Swoosie Kurtz), brutish brother-in-law Joe (Jamey Sheridan) and pregnant daughter Kelly (Plimpton); because of an indiscreet remark by Iris, loner Stanley’s long-disguised illiteracy comes to light and he loses his job, is hard-pressed to find other employment and has to consign his ailing father to a squalid retirement home. Stanley and Iris become a team, she to teach him to read and write, he to draw her into embracing life again after retreating inside a shell of drab, soul-killing routine. Plimpton’s Kelly, who must drop out of school and join her mother working at the plant as a result of her unplanned pregnancy, is a particular worry for world-weary Iris, who doesn’t want her child ending up in a dead-end job and an unfulfilled life; the scenes between Fonda and Plimpton are terrifically affecting and truthful, whether dealing with the sting of self-inflicted pain or the release of long-withheld love. Birthday honoree Plimpton’s solid work in Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-rays of Another Woman and Stanley & Iris can be had at limited-time discount prices through month’s end. Though The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough, this one Goonie in particular has succeeded splendidly.