The Dish and the Spoon played at AFI Fest 2011. It is a wonderfully indie film with characteristics similar to the “Mumblecore” movement. Mumblecore is an indie film genre that came about at the turn of the century. Its defining characteristics include low production value, character-driven stories, unconventional plots, middle class/twenty-something characters, naturalism in performances, and improvisation. All of these attributes are found in The Dish and the Spoon, and its star, Greta Gerwig, is no stranger to the genre. Although written and directed by Alison Bagnall, both Gerwig and English co-star Olly Alexander have “additional material” credits, thanks to the improvisational nature of the film.
The story opens with Rose (Gerwig) driving away from something, or someone, in tears. Without money or even a bag packed, she quickly finds herself with nothing but a convenience store box of donuts and a six pack of beer. This is her low point, as she practically drives drunk without a second thought. After reaching the beach and walking aimlessly for a time, she stumbles upon a shivering, passed out young man (Olly Alexander). Rose decides to transport him to a hospital, but, on the way there, plans change. The young man (who goes the entire film unnamed) is fine, medically speaking, but he is damaged and lost like her. Over the course of the next few days, Rose and her mystery man take shelter at her family’s beach house.
The basic premise of The Dish and the Spoon is simple: before the movie begins, Rose finds out that her husband has slept with another woman, a friend that Rose knows well. Rose’s feelings and mental state, however, are much more complex. She is hell-bent on finding this woman and, somehow, getting out her anger and frustration at her, as well as her husband. She handles her anger towards her husband through various pay phone calls where only her side of the conversation can be heard. In regards to the other woman, at one point, she makes it clear to her companion that she plans to “kill the bitch,” but this is never the reality. Rose is powerless, and she uses her few precious days away from home to try to take hold of herself. During this time, she and her companion flirt with a romantic relationship without ever diving in. Instead, the young man becomes a helpful springboard and friend.
This film is a character study with emotion taking center stage over action. The overall point of the film is not to punish an adulterer or a home wrecker, but to journey with Rose as she tries to remember what makes her special and worth something. The film has its edgy moments, including a cross-dressing sequence with Rose dressing up in her husband’s clothes and making her companion dress as a woman. This is partly a joke they play with each other, but Rose flirts with darkness when she calls the other woman and leaves her a disturbing message from the point of view of her husband. She also briefly forces herself on her companion, basically embodying a macho-male perspective, in an effort to claim back her power over her situation.
The Dish and the Spoon is like a tall glass of cool water. It is refreshing and simple, with many beautiful scenes to take in. The story is unconventionally built, but the effect is successful. Its simplicity may turn some viewers away, but, if it is approached as the Mumblecore film that it is, it should not disappoint. After the screening, director Bagnall participated in a Q&A. When asked what the budget was for the film, she responded, “Pennies.” This type of indie film is an encouragement to filmmakers who want to tell a worthwhile story but don’t have many resources. It can be done, and The Dish and the Spoon has done it.