One of the (many) great things about Greta Gerwig’s meteoric rise in the last year is how strongly she’s been speaking out in support of fellow female directors, both established and new (her cover story for Time has a great anecdote about her basically threatening a fan into actually making a movie). So I figure it would be good to cover one of the (sadly) few films made by a female director that Gerwig appeared in. Given how it finally pushed Gerwig over the edge into being a director, I sincerely wish I liked Rebecca Miller’s Maggie’s Plan more, but it reminded me too much of a particularly first-drafty Woody Allen script. But I do like Alison Bagnall’s The Dish & the Spoon enough to give it the spotlight, and it’s definitely a worthy entry in the Gerwig canon.
A lot of The Dish & The Spoon is too indie-movie quirky for its own good. Just reading its logline could trigger one’s gag reflex if you don’t have a strong tolerance for this stuff; a depressed, recently dumped woman (Gerwig) befriends an effete British boy (Olly Alexander) and enlists him in her quest to get back at the woman her husband cheated on her with. And there’s a colonial-themed dance party as the setting of the climax. It definitely crosses the line too often into quirk for quirk’s sake, with a game of Hangman substituting for exposition and Alexander feeling like a Manic Pixie Dream Boy. But it’s held to Earth by Gerwig, whose performance here is one of her finest and least typical. This was made and released when her niche was still “charming, natural mumblecore darling”, but there’s not an ounce of cuteness to this performance, which is as raw a depiction of post-break-up malaise as anything out there. The movie opens with her ugly-crying in her car, and she spends the rest of the movie suddenly lapsing into crying jags or fits of extreme rage directed at her husband and his mistress (the solution to the aforementioned Hangman game is “KILL THE BITCH”, and you believe that she means it). It’s a shockingly bracing performance for Gerwig (even her sadder turns in things like 20th Century Women are more melancholy than this kind of brutality), and it helps to take a pin to any preciousness in the movie as it comes up. And she dances a lot in it too, which is a definite plus.
The Dish & The Spoon is available on DVD and to purchase on Amazon Video.