Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 29, 2011 8:44 am 
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Fuming and flirting in Delaware

In sometime-writer Alison Bagnall's sophomore effort as a director, we are instantly thrown in with Rose (Greta Gerwig), who's angry and weepy and guzzling beer from bottles as she leaves New York in a Mercedes station wagon to escape from her husband, who's just slept with another woman. This we learn from the frequent angry calls Rose makes to him on pay phones. She's wearing a shabby overcoat over pajamas and has forgotten to bring her wallet. Out of pity a roadside shopkeeper lets her have a six-pack and some snacks for the spare change she finds in the ashtray.

In a lighthouse tower Rose finds and rescues a shivering British waif, a striking-looking Boy (she never asks his name) played by up-and-comer Olly Alexander -- he had a role in Gaspar Noë's Enter the Void and before that played Keats's (i.e. Ben Whishaw's) younger brother in Bright Star. Alexander has a nice accent, Bob Dylan hair, and the face of an angel. Gerwig is luminous herself, even in deshabille: Rose and Boy could be siblings. Initially she just wants to dump him somewhere, but he's sweet, cute, and unthreatening and she needs company. Rose winds up taking Boy (who says he came to America for a girlfriend who instantly dumped him) to her apparent destination -- so far as she has one -- her parents' summer house located in a boarded up Delaware beach town. It's winter and the cold and desolation make this desultory two-hander cozier and more romantic, so far as there is a romance.

It turns out the Other Woman is actually in town, and Rose is here to "kill the bitch." An admirable aim, no doubt, but first she must find her. She is no longer working at a beer bottling plant, which Rose and Boy visit, nicking bottles and getting drunk under a table. Rose's flirtation with the very young Boy (he looks about 17, though Olly is more like 20) leads him to fall for her. "I could marry you," he declares in the fireplace-heated living room of the summer house after they have exchanged fake alternate back stories and cuddles. He admits he's estranged from his father in England but accepts the money his dad sends every month. His wallet is stuffed with cash and Rose sends him upstairs to fetch her coat and steals a wad of his money.

That's but one example of how carelessly Rose uses Boy. He's no more than a distraction on her "fugue" (as the French might call her ramble) while she simmers down, waits for an apology from her husband (which comes), and has a chance to attack the "bitch" at an Eighteenth Century Country Dancing class she drags Boy to in costume. This whole sequence is awkwardly handled -- of several signs Alison Bagnall doesn't altogether know what she's doing. Another is the way the film, so fresh-feeling at the outset, begins to stall and become repetitions. A sequence when Rose and Boy put on Victorian clothes and have a staged "wedding" picture taken goes nowhere. Dish is over before it's over.

The leads carry us most of the way, however. Challenged more than usual emotionally here, at least when on the pay phone, Gerwig is even more a rising star than Olly. Her graduation from mumblecore to mainstream is proven by recent roles in Greenberg, No Strings Attached, and Arthur. The Dish and the Spoon is low-budget film -- Bagnall couldn't afford to meet in person with her L.A. editor (whose services were sorely needed). But this isn't exactly mumblecore: images and dialogue are too clearcut for that. Some degree of charm hovers over the wistful romance, thanks to Olly and Greta. Since the intervals between her rants sometimes take on an edge of comedy nothing gets too serious, and Boy's infatuation steers just this side of saccharine. Adam Rothenberg is solid briefly as the husband, when Rose drives home and for the inevitable reconciliation and drops off poor Boy in the backyard. He leaves her a thoughtful gift-wrapped offering (a silver cup and spoon, no dish) and returns to life as a wandering British waif.

Music, some of it provided by Olly, who plays keyboards and sings, is kept unobtrusive. Olly even draws a skillful portrait of Rose in the sand. The cinematography by Mark Schwartzbard, simple HD, is handsome, though it relies a bit much on shots with orange sunsets creeping in.

The Dish and the Spoon debuted at the SXSW festival in Austin. It was also presented a month later at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this review..

SFIFF Screenings
Thu, Apr 28 8:45 / PFA
Fri, Apr 29 6:30 / Kabuki
Sun, May 1 3:30 / Kabuki

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