SXSW 2011: ‘The Dish and the Spoon’ – an intimate snapshot of a short-lived romance

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The Dish and the Spoon

Directed by Alison Bagnall

Written by Alison Bagnall

USA, 2010

Dipping in and out of insanity and steeping in imagination, The Dish and the Spoon is an intimate snapshot of a short-lived romance between two unlikely characters.

When we meet Rose, played by the charming and quirky Greta Gerwig, she is sobbing alarmingly while driving in her pajamas. She stops only to buy beer and a carton of eggs before landing at her destination, the top of an abandoned lighthouse on Delaware’s coast. Rose’s incongruous gas station purchase and nighttime climb to the top of a lighthouse is not the last thing she does that raises eyebrows. An otherwise quiet woman, throughout the film she periodically stops to pick up a payphone and erupt in Tourette’s-like outbursts at the man on the other end of the line. Rose’s cheating husband has left her livid, crazy, drunk, obsessed and emotionally crippled.

Enter a slight British teenager (Olly Alexander) with wild curly hair and a magical “le petit prince” aura about him. A friendship forms that would never have been born were it not for the fragile state of each character, and the two make a lovely juxtaposition. She is tall, wide-shouldered, and in her 30’s. He is small, well spoken, sweater-clad and young. Clumsily, they fall in step with each other over the days they spend romping around town and staying at Rose’s parents’ coastal cabin.

The relationship between Rose and the boy is reminiscent of the one between Joel and Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s playful, exciting and fanciful. The boy from The Dish and the Spoon looks at Rose the same way Joel looked at Clementine, totally inspired and in love but still with the kind of reserve one takes with a loose cannon.

This story is the perfect telling of a woman who is so at her rope’s end she’s forgotten everything she knew about social norms and decency. The result is terrifying, embarrassing, playful and funny.While she finds comfort playing house with her new friend, dressing up, dancing, she can’t let go of a gripping dread and jealousy accompanied with what happened to her days before. It’s this parallel story constantly ripping Rose out of her current dreamworld that is the heartbeat of the plot and it moves things forward. Rose’s obsession with the ‘other woman’ becomes our own and raises the stakes.

One of the great gifts of this little film is the piano music played by the boy in various capacities. In the cabin it’s an abandoned keyboard he digs up while Rose is off attempting to hunt down the woman who slept with her husband. In another sequence, Rose finds him playing for a group of elderly people in a local restaurant after she’s left him there without a word. Later he plays for her in a dance hall when they’re alone and she dances for him in an unabashed, innocent but ridiculous mixture of tap and modern. His music echoes both the loneliness and happiness explored in the joining of these two characters.

During the Q&A of the film’s screening at SXSW, Director Alison Bagnall admitted that she was under some pressure to get the screenplay written before actress Greta Gerwig “blew up” from roles in films like Greenberg and No Strings Attached. Gerwig carries over the stripped-down acting style employed in mumblecore films like Hannah Takes the Stairs, but it’s a relief to see her acting in the company of other talented actors rather than sharing the screen with real people trying not to act and coming across a bit stiff as is the case with many D.I.Y films. The roles in The Dish and the Spoon were specifically written for both Greta Gerwig and Olly Alexander, and it shows. Both characters feel real and their chemistry is organic, making the film a joy to watch.

Alice Gray

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