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SXSW 2011 Review: The Dish & the Spoon

April 13, 2011

The Dish & the Spoon (directed and written by Alison Bagnall) is an uncommon character study about a young, married woman who becomes fast friends with a marooned, British teenager as she grapples with her husband’s infidelity. The circumstances which bring these two together are less significant than the tenuous bond which keeps them in each other’s company – it’s an unusual catch and one which never quite made enough sense to keep me engaged in the story.

The film opens with Rose (Greta Gerwig) driving in her pajamas and clearly suffering from some sort of emotional crisis. Rose is blindsided by the discovery that her husband is having an affair and her distress is painful to watch – particularly when she stops to buy beer and barely has enough change on her to purchase 5 bottles out of a 6-pack. Unable to stop sobbing and desperate to get drunk, Rose drives to a beach and wanders around a lighthouse whereupon she discovers a waif-ish, teenage boy laying on the ground and shivering.

Rose takes the young man (a manic-pixie-dream-boy played by Olly Alexander – last seen gagging on glowing genitalia in Enter the Void) to her car with every intention of driving him to the hospital, but as he becomes more responsive he protests this and she decides to take him to a diner instead. A trip to the hospital would have been the reasonable thing to do, but Rose is irrational and her behavior is erratic.  She ends up taking the boy, who has also recently experienced the pain of romantic rejection, along with her as she tries to track down her husbands’ lover – a decision which makes sense only if one is batshit poopers. After driving to the other woman’s house and screaming a variety of colorful threats in her driveway, Rose and the boy go to the local brewery where she was employed and discover that she has left town. Hoping to gather information on her whereabouts, they take a beer tour, get intoxicated and then drive to Rose’s parents’ beach house to spend the night.

Rose and the boy grow closer as she plots to confront her husband’s mistress and their bond is cemented with soul-mate-building-activities not atypical of  precocious, indie films – they chat, play dress-up, dance, play music and engage in disturbing role-play. It is evident that the boy is becoming infatuated with Rose, in spite of her exhibiting some truly horrifying and borderline behaviors. The boy gamely poses as Rose’s new fiance as they wander around a New England beach town in search of her rival, eventually learning that the other woman regularly attends a period-costume-themed dance populated primarily by senior-citizens. The pair decide to attend the dance themselves and make preparations for Rose’s confrontation. When the time does come for Rose to meet her husband’s lover face-to-face, the women are bedecked in colonial hoop skirts and strangely, it’s not funny – but grim and really kind of terrifying. The boy wants to bookend Rose’s violent altercation with a smackdown of his own, so he rides along with her when she decides to go back to her house, where he confronts her unfaithful husband. His skirmish is played for laughs – her husband is enormous and the boy appears to weigh 90 lbs soaking wet  - it’s an awkward scene leading to a resolution that actually does makes sense, but feels so out of sync given unconventional tone of the film.

Initially, I was game to go along with this unusual story about two unlikely people making a connection. I was willing to overlook the overly-fanciful premise and just enjoy things as they played out – implausible though they may have been. Unfortunately, things went off the rails for me early on and the film became inaccessible to me. I could understand some of Rose’s actions – she’s mentally coming unhinged and her behavior doesn’t necessarily need to make sense. It’s entirely possible that she is so co-dependent with her husband that she wouldn’t have friends to call during her time of need – which could kind of explain her attachment to the boy – but the boy’s decision to stick around is the greater conundrum. I could chalk up some of his interest in Rose to his youth, but his utter devotion to her in such a short span of time seemed entirely forced and unearned to me. In spite of some good performances, the film just rang false – a bit too quirky for quirk’s sake – and instead of sweeping me along with it – I was left wishing that I were in my own car, driving in my pajamas and crying my eyes out.


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