SXSW FILM 2011
By Don Simpson | March 21, 2011
Director: Alison Bagnall
Writers: Alison Bagnall, Andrew Lewis
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Olly Alexander, Amy Seimetz, Adam Rothenberg, Eleonore Hendricks
We first meet Rose (Greta Gerwig) as she drives her car amidst some sort of intense emotional breakdown. Still clad in pajamas, Rose wanders into a convenience store located somewhere in Delaware to stock up on donuts and Dogfish beer purchased with the change she scrounges from her car’s ashtray. Refueled with a hefty dose of sugar and alcohol, Rose continues her drive to the coastal town where her family’s vacation home is located.
Before heading to the shuttered house (judging by the cold, gray atmosphere this is clearly the off-season on the Delaware coast), Rose climbs the spiral stairs of a cement lookout tower (used during World War II to search for German U-boats) — this is where she meets an absurdly dislocated British man-child (Olly Alexander), a lost puppy of sorts who resembles a vaudevillian mash-up of Bob Dylan, Robert Smith, Oscar Wilde and Chaplin’s Tramp. It is not without purpose that a woman who has partially de-evolved into a sobbing, tantrum-throwing child meets an ambiguously-aged male who feeds her childlike tendencies but also desires her love and affection (whether that is the love and affection of a mother-figure, a lover or both has yet to be determined). The British lad represents the most simple and innocent form of love, but it also does not hurt matters that he has enough money to support Rose’s bender for a while.
It is not long before we learn the reason that Rose is in such a state of emotional disrepair: her husband has cheated on her, shagging one of Rose’s friends no less. The harlot in question just happens to live in the very same quaint seaside town where Rose’s bender has marooned her; okay, it is not as much of a coincidence as it seems — it turns out Rose has arrived here quite purposefully to “kill the bitch.” Rose and her boy-friend thus proceed to alternate whimsical adventures with the development of their asexual romance with schemes to avenge the woman who slept with Rose’s hubby.
My unwavering love for Gerwig is pretty well known from sea to shining sea; but for those of you who have been residing under a rock since Hannah Takes the Stairs, let me warn you that I sometimes find myself a wee bit biased when it comes to reviewing films featuring Gerwig. That said — Gerwig’s unyieldingly emotional Tilt-a-Whirl of a performance in The Dish & the Spoon is by far the best of her career. Unleashing an endless plethora of emotions, Gerwig may totally let herself go at times (to transcendental results) but we never lose our sense of Rose’s reality as a human being. In Gerwig’s hands, Rose is a magnificent humanization of juxtapositions: juggling a dire sort of fragility with enduring strength, humor and beauty with ugly emotional breakdowns.
Alexander portrays the boy who fell to earth — since Rose never once asks his name, we will never know what to call him (Alexander is credited as “Boy”) — with a frail and sweet persona, yet a mysterious presence. Alexander’s character seems to be not of the same time or place as Rose; and not just because of his accent and fashion sense, but his archaic taste in music and cultural naivete play into this as well. The Dish & the Spoon contemplates history in many literal manners (historical costumes, old-timey music, the characters’ discussion about Thanksgiving) but it is director and co-writer Alison Bagnall’s clever toying with the historical ambiguity of Alexander’s character — who appears to be torn straight from a 19th-century novel — that really turns any sense of reality on its head.
Bagnall (who co-wrote Buffalo ‘66 with Vincent Gallo) takes a fairly extreme risk allowing Gerwig to portray Rose’s turmoil and anguish with intense sincerity during some scenes while playing the same emotions for comedic affect in other scenes. Bagnall also reveals a real (or reel) knack for never allowing The Dish & the Spoon to veer too far into the realm of overly precious tweeness. Recalling Blue Valentine, an all-so-cute song and dance scene is one of the lighthearted highlights of an otherwise emotionally emancipating film. The Dish & the Spoon is incredibly sincere and brutally honest in its portrayal of the highs and lows of relationships — especially in its representation of the rage and sadness that are closely associated with romance.
Also be sure to check out our video interview with writer-director Alison Bagnall.