By Christopher Bell | The Playlist February 9, 2012 at 5:05PM
Whether you like it or not, we're going for a ride with Greta Gerwig. Opening with a perspective from the backseat, we see mostly the road ahead through the windshield, an endless dark tunnel with minimal traffic. A cellphone yelps for the driver's attention, to which the actress responds by tossing it out of the window -- obviously something is off, and at that point it becomes apparent (through a single, carefully framed shot in which we can see the unlit face in the rearview) that the woman is sobbing profusely. Rose (Gerwig) is not having a good day.
"The Dish and The Spoon" impresses very early on but unfortunately never hits this kind of reserved note again. Rose's journey takes her to a secluded lighthouse where she accidentally stumbles upon an unnamed British youngin' (Olly Alexander, "Enter The Void"), a boy who joins her for some coffee at a nearby diner. Backstory: crossing the sea to run away with his main squeeze, he found himself deserted when she opted for a different dude entirely. Rose can relate as it's revealed that her husband has been cheating on her, and she's come to the area to give the woman he's sleeping with a piece of her mind. Filled with frustration and spiraling out of control, the woman scorned stomps around town with her new sidekick and visits the adulteress' home and former place of work in the hopes of getting proper revenge. When not following a lead on her whereabouts (or leaving nasty voice mails on her husband's mobile via pay phone), Rose and the boy share an unlikely romance in their brief time together, finding comfort and warmth amongst one another despite the catastrophic mayhem.
Such a premise should be an actor's oyster and Gerwig takes advantage of the breaking point her character is experiencing, but director Alison Bagnall often can't find the sweet spot between insanity and overcooked nonsense. Some highlights include Rose's voicemails, which are appropriately unhinged, and her final showdown with the "mistress" (Eleonor Hendricks, "The Pleasure Of Being Robbed"), a downright unsettling altercation in the basement of a dance hall. Despite the strength of these moments, which are surely improved by letting Gerwig loose, others deserve a subtler hand and, if anything, seem like a rushed first take than anything rehearsed or refined. At one point Rose notices a yoga flyer with her arch nemesis's face square in the middle -- a poster she stares at while gritting her teeth and uncontrollably tapping on the glass of the storefront with her fingers. The overacting here is uncomfortably wincing, steering the movie into comic territory.
Together, the couple have an easy chemistry with one another and the Gerwig-Alexander duo manage to keep their relationship from being too twee. Still, the minimalist script evokes plenty of forced moments, with too many scenes seeming to exist solely for duration's sake. The biggest offenders are when Rose's unnamed cohort is left to his own devices -- we watch him snoop around the house, look at family pictures, fiddle with a keyboard, etc -- in dull, unnecessary sequences that quickly become tedious.
Their scenes together fair better (sans a debate about Thanksgiving between the Brit and American, which doesn't feel like an actual conversation, only a shoddy bit), with her new friend either extracting sincerity from the boiling Rose or simply enjoying being with her. Late night chats reveal her yearning for a safe, conventional love life, and a impromptu fishing trip is pleasant enough to allow her to live in the moment. While the latter is another scenario seemingly constructed on a whim, it's very active and the filmmaker has a great sense of the environment, achieving the natural life moments that the other sequences of its ilk failed to do.
"The Dish and The Spoon" wraps up calmly once Gerwig's character loses steam shortly after the brush with Hendricks. Ultimately the film is quite uneven; the craziness of its protagonist has a decent energy which is occasionally squandered when the narrative decides to meander. Still, it's an unoffensive film and has a few bright spots within. [C-]