I Write Letters

Dear Martha Plimpton:

I adore you.

When I was 11, this totally awkward thing with too-short hair and too-big glasses, kind of a tomboy with a best friend who was prettier than I was, and already having begun construction on a fortified wall of sarcasm behind which I'd hide for the next ten years (or so), I saw Goonies. It is a film remembered primarily as a boys' adventure, but tucked in among them was Stef Steinbrenner, this totally awkward, kind of a tomboy, sarcasm-wielding revelation.

Stef Steinbrenner pretty much rocked my world.

She was a girl like me, or, at least a girl I wanted to be—a smart and adventurous and tough and cynical and vulnerable and sentimental and funny girl. With gigantic glasses. I lived and died with every step that Mikey and Mouth and Data and Chunk and Brand and Andy and Sloth took, too, every one of the nine billion times I watched the movie until I wore out my VHS tape, but it was Stef whose Converse I felt like I really filled.

Then there you were the year after, as the rebellious daughter of Christian missionaries in The Mosquito Coast. Emily Spellgood was not at the center of story, but she was important. She was dependable, resourceful. It was because of your real boyfriend—and my imaginary one—River Phoenix that I wanted to see the film. But twenty-four years hence, it's you I remember. And by the time Running on Empty came out two years later, I wanted to see it as much because you were in it as because he was.

I was just at the age then when I was starting to notice actors who chewed the scenery, to tell the difference between good actors and bad. And it was watching Running on Empty, for the third or fourth or fifteenth time, that I saw how good you really are. Good like whoa. You were the only girl whose picture, cut from teen magazines, hung on my wall. You and River and Tom Cruise.

I watched for you in other films: I saw Parenthood (oh how I loved Julie Buckman! Julie Buckman and her shaved head!) and Stanley & Iris and Inside Monkey Zetterland because you were in them. I watched Law & Order: SVU because you were a guest star.

And I danced with delight when I got tickets to see you at the Steppenwolf in Chicago. Martha Plimpton at my favorite theater. Oh. Mah. Gawd. You were so good. So fucking good.

When I read that this season's new shows included a sitcom featuring you and Cloris Leachman (who, let's face it, deserves a letter like this of her own), I was so there. And, yeah, you aren't "the only reason 'Raising Hope' could be the best new sitcom of the season, but [you are] the main reason," and it is indeed because of the "incandescence in the way that [you manage] with two words to morph into a comically hardened, uneducated, working-class mom without becoming either a caricature or a cruel joke." You are, as always, good like whoa—but now you're making me laugh.

And the thing about Virginia Chance—mother, grandmother, granddaughter, provider of elder care and child care, cleaner of homes she dreams of owning, realist, optimist, and world-class malapropism machine—is that I really like her. She's hard but she's nice. Of course that's down to the writing, but it's easy to see how Virginia would be a harpy or fool if she were inhabited by someone less deft at her craft than you are.

(I apologize in advance that it's destined to be canceled, since virtually every sitcom I've ever watched and enjoyed from episode one goes off the air in record speed. I'm sorry, "Everything's Relative." I'm sorry, "It's Like, You Know…" I'm sorry, "Sports Night." I have many more apologies to make, but I digress…)

While watching the latest episode, I thought about how Virginia is flawed but well-meaning, moving into middle-age still open enough to the possibility she could do better, be better, and I realized that you have created yet another character that I wouldn't mind being a little bit like.

Over the years, I've read articles about you that have suggested if you were a little more conventionally beautiful, looked a little less like your dad, perhaps, that you might have had a different sort of career (thus far). That's probably true. And for all the things that alternate career universe might have given you, selfishly I'm glad for all the things the career you've had has given me.

...And all the other totally awkward, kind of a tomboy, sarcasm-encased girls who maybe felt a little feistier, a little less self-conscious, a little more rebellious because of the characters you played, because of the way you played them.

Thanks, Martha.


Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus