Greta Gerwig, who began her career collaborating with "mumblecore" pioneers Joe Swanberg and the Duplass Brothers, is rapidly becoming a national treasure. Pretty but unprepossessing, with a nervous manner and a reluctant smile, she seems like an unlikely movie star, and yet she seems on the verge of a major breakout. She was easily the best thing about Ivan Reitman's 'No Strings Attached,' and she has major roles in the forthcoming 'Arthur' remake and Whit Stillman's comeback film 'Damsels in Distress.'
Before boarding her train to fame and fortune, however, Gerwig stopped off to headline 'The Dish and the Spoon,' a tiny, prototypically indie two-character drama by Alison Bagnall (who is best known for co-writing 'Buffalo '66' with Vincent Gallo). In the opening scenes, Gerwig's character, Rose, is hauling ass somewhere in her diesel Mercedes station wagon. Distraught and cashless, she stops off in a convenience store to binge on beer and donuts. Eventually, she reaches a windswept beach where, seemingly confused and still upset about something, she climbs a lighthouse. On the third floor of the stone enclave, she finds a slight, soft-spoken, somewhat androgynous British teenager (Olly Alexander) passed out on a blanket.
Rose takes the boy to a diner, where we learn what she is doing in this out-of-season Delaware resort town, and why she alternately looks like she is about to cry or murder someone: Her husband has had an affair and, beside herself with fury, she has driven here to confront the other woman. The boy claims to be marooned, having come to meet a girl who, it turned out, wasn't interested. The two make an unspoken decision to spend the weekend together while Rose hunts down her new mortal enemy. ("What are you gonna do when you find her?" he asks, whereupon she makes him play hangman with "kill the bitch" as the clue.)
The title is a reference to "Hey Diddle Diddle," the classic nursery rhyme: "Hey diddle diddle / the Cat and the fiddle / the Cow jumped over the moon / The little Dog laughed to see such sport / and the Dish ran away with the Spoon." If this all sounds insufferably precious, well -- it is, sort of, or it could have been. It helps that 'The Dish and the Spoon' is not a romance; Rose and her new friend aren't soul mates and they don't become lovers. Instead, they are two people who happen to meet each other's emotional needs at this one precise moment. In some ways, 'The Dish and the Spoon''s closest cousin may be 'Lost in Translation': This is a movie about making a meaningful but necessarily temporary connection.
It's a relatable notion, and the actors hit all the right notes. Gerwig manages to make Rose both emotionally raw and very funny; she has a couple of one-sided phone tirades at her (unheard) husband that bring down the house. Alexander, a newcomer who had small roles in 'Gulliver's Travels' and 'Enter the Void,' is excellent too; His character starts as an enigma and gradually builds to a heartbreaking final scene.
'The Dish and the Spoon' will come and go quickly and without much fanfare. It is a minor film down to the bone. But it is also a pleasure, with a screenplay that doesn't push too hard (except perhaps one sequence involving two-way cross-dressing) and a tiny cast of actors who wear these roles like a second skin. Greta Gerwig can be proud of this lovely detour on her way to bigger things.