Before she steals hearts in Arthur, Greta Gerwig falls curiously apart in new indie dramedy

The Dish and the Spoon

on March 29, 2011 by Sara Vizcarrondo
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Greta Gerwig sidesteps her rapid ascent to stardom for an appearance in this dramedy by mumblecore associate Alison Bagnall (Piggie). A film about a wronged woman who forms a bond with a British teen, The Dish and The Spoon boasts the efficiency and tidiness of early American indies like Rob Nilsson's Heat and Sunlight, while it relocates its foreign film-like emotional landscapes to more native climes. Even with Gerwig, who will follow her breakout in Greenberg with a turn as the love interest in Arthur, the film needs some clear marketing to differentiate it from the indie fold. It's certainly special and broadcasting its pedigree would really showcase the good taste of your theater's programming; prestige will follow.

Rose (Gerwig) is "a handful," and her unhinged responses to her husband's infidelity force this into relief. We meet her sobbing as she drives an anonymous highway; it's enough to see her hysterics as she struggles to steady the wheel, but when she rolls down her window and throws out her cell phone you wonder who's benefiting from her concert of misery-it's possible The Rose Show is playing whether or not anyone's watching. Alone with a six-pack and half dozen donuts she climbs a lighthouse to find a sleeping backpacker (Olly Alexander) freezing on the concrete floor. She aims to deliver him to a hospital but he sort-of-charms her out of it in flowery Dickensian-speak instead. He's educated, nameless (remains so throughout) and has just been rejected by a girl he followed out to Delaware. At sea in different ways, the two seem to need each other. Initially she treats him like a waiting dog, leaving him in the car while she stalks her husband's ex-lover. Slowly he's integrated into her histrionics and playacting becomes central to their rapport. She puts him in drag and takes him on a date, they dress like homesteading newlyweds for kitschy portraits, they attend a colonial costume dance and she tells people they're getting married. While the characters' traumas pressed them into stagnation, the world outside their bubble is still moving, and they realize they can't spend much longer watching the wheels turn without them.

While the plot seems slight, the psychology isn't. Rose is riddled with self-loathing and reveals this in fascinating ways. After abusively abandoning her backpacker in drag, she finds a phone and calls the other woman. On voicemail, she assumes the voice of her husband: "Rose is a handful, and you're a gem," she explains. The no-frills parlance elegantly paves over Rose's turbulence and hurts more than any reveal. Gerwig has made herself a career playing wistful women in varying stages of development (Greenberg, Nights and Weekends). She's been many a manic pixie dreamgirl and here, she's an MPG in close-up. A cardinal rule of the manic pixie dreamgirl is that she's always loved from afar and Dish and Spoon poses the possibility that, from a different proximity, the MPG is a volatile beast and far more than the promise of your fantasies can actually tolerate.

In a fascinating and surprisingly unaffecting sequence, the backpacker, who's grown more intimate with Rose, plays a piano while Rose shows off all the dance lessons her parents ever bought her. The dance is focused and cathartic, and the backpacker watches her with mounting adoration as if she, in all her injury and inaccessibility, is doing the most interesting thing on earth. He's possibly the only one seeing that magic-for all intents and purposes her dance is uniquely self-serving and, as such, not the involuntary romantic gesture he seems to be receiving. Like the nursery rhyme of the film's title, the magic is crudely but poetically bound to an age and a place that's different for everyone and seldom reached in unison.

Contact: Josh Braun josh@submarine.com 212.625.1410
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Olly Alexander, Amy Seimetz
Director/Screenwriter: Alison Bagnall
Producers: Amy Seimetz, Alison Bagnall
Genre: Dramedy
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 87 min.
Release date: Unset

 

Tags: Greta Gerwig, Olly Alexander, Amy Seimetz, Alison Bagnall
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