Film Review: The Fruit Hunters

Too bad Carmen Miranda isn’t around to see this fetching, revealing doc about her favorite accessory.

Thank God for nerds! As obsessive and annoying as they can be—and I count myself one—they do help bring attention to matters others might consider impossibly arcane and in their various ways may actually help challenge—and even change—the world. Yung Chang’s The Fruit Hunters focuses on those geeks besotted by fruit—a species of nerd I may have presumed existed, but never realized were so gosh-darned passionate.

Inspired by the best-selling book by Adam Leith Gollner, Chang travels the globe in the company of committed fruit freaks like naturalists Noris Ledesma and Richard Campbell, searching for the most exotic examples. We learn that while there are many different species of bananas, many facing extinction, only one—called the Cavendish—reaches our stores, whose abundance of fruity choices, no matter the season, has created a “permanent global summertime.” The banana’s imperiled history, constantly subject to diseases, has caused its growers to focus exclusively on the Cavendish, with its profitable 15-day shelf life.

There is a strong emphasis on the mango too, as the team travels to Borneo in search of an especially elusive example. Campbell dismisses the lychee as “cold,” while his relationship to the mango can be “scary, intimidating or submissive. It’s exhausting to love the mango.” Meanwhile, an Italian pear-lover puts it less intensely purple, when she describes her favorite tree as possessing “an important patrimony of resilience, passion and endurance.”

Bill Pullman is the film’s big celebrity “get,” an impassioned advocate whom Chang says he has known for 20 years. Pullman admits to having lost his sense of smell—a decided problem, one would think, with his chosen obsession—and is seen trying to rally a bunch of Hollywood Hills residents to form a community garden. “Dream of what it would be like,” he says, as we are shown his vast garden, resembling some Tuscan paradise. (Lucky him!)

I could have done without the very cheesy re-enacted tableaux of aborigines, exotic historical plant-loving ladies and a quite risible Father Nature, but The Fruit Hunters engages and educates in a way that is almost as rich as the miraculous bounty which forms its subject.