In the opening scene of The Dish and the Spoon, from director Alison Bagnall, we’re introduced to a woman named Rose, driving a car while experiencing some sort of emotional trauma. She stumbles into a convenience store, grabs a six pack of beer and some doughnuts and takes her incoherent fit to a new level when she realizes she doesn’t have her wallet with her. Her distress obvious, the cashier gives her the items and she continues her semi-reckless driving/drinking beer frantically and eating the powdered doughtnuts until somehow, she finds herself at lonely and cold beach.
It’s a frenetic way to open the film and it’s a long time before we find out what was so upsetting to Rose. At the beach, she comes across a boyish looking man in a similar state of dejection. And while shacking up on the wintery beach at Rose’s parents’ summer home, the two form a bond that resembles that between mother and son, brother and sister, and lovers–although it should be noted that the relationship only flirts with sexual boundaries, but never crosses them. Rose is played by recent breakout star, and mumblecore queen, Greta Gerwig. Her newfound friend, who remains unnamed in the film like the rest of the cast, is an actor from across the pond named Olly Alexander.
Although not technically classified as such, there are several characteristics of the mumblecore film movement. If you liked The Puffy Chair, you’ll probably dig The Dish and the Spoon. Much of the story was improvised, admits Bagnall. Gerwig and Alexander were constantly bringing things to the film seemingly out of nowhere. So much so, they both receive a writing credit for ‘additional material.’
We find out Rose is upset about a recent infidelity of her husband. We know this because we’re witnesses to a number of out of control, angry phone calls she makes. We only ever hear her side of these conversations. Rose decides to find the woman her husband cheated with and, as she reveals in a game of hangman while the two are drunk off stolen free drinks in beer factory, ‘kill the bitch.’ It should be stressed that Rose’s sadness is a much stronger force in the film than her desire for violence. An attack would not really be the point, but her expression of the desire for it is a way to actualize her pain.
In one of the film’s most poignant moments, Rose calls this woman and leaves a disturbing voice mail speaking as her husband–she ends the message by saying, “by the time you get this, I hope my wife will be dead.” It’s a truly disturbing moment of self-loathing that really brings Rose’s character development to a new level.
In another moment of violence, Rose dresses the boy as a woman and herself as a man. They visit a bar where Rose acts out both a bit of sadism as well as masochism as she womanizes the boy, forces herself on him and calls him a c*nt when he spurns her aggressive advances. She then abandons him for a time.
In terms of plot, the architecture of The Dish and the Spoon doesn’t offer much in traditional structure. Many of the scenes feel disjointed and completely separate from those that come immediately before, or after. But each scene is a stunning portrait of a genuine moment or experience the two share, always interesting, and frequently poignant.