SXSW Film: The Dish and the Spoon and the Great White Whale



Set in a faded seaside town in coastal Delaware, The Dish & the Spoon evokes the damp and drizzly winds, the meditative metal-hued blues and grays of Moby Dick, and even quotes the novel’s opening pages. At its South by Southwest red-carpet premiere, director Alison Bagnall (Piggie, co-author of Buffalo ‘66) admitted to, “a little Melville obsession all summer before we were making the film.”

What’s more, like Melville’s prose, the film tells the story of an unlikely friendship, between Rose (Greta Gerwig)—emotionally devastated by her husband’s affair—and an unnamed, wandering British boy (Olly Alexander, whose general mien and clothes appear borrowed from a 19th-century novel), by adorning larger themes like love, escape and companionship with flashes of tenderness and humor. “You’re meant to have a romantic response to it,” Bagnall explained about the story’s meandering tone. “It’s not for people who love plot; you just kind of ease into it, which means it’s not for everyone.”

Incensed, hurt, and humiliated, Gerwig’s Rose spends at least two-thirds of the film in a blind, and at times tongue-tied, rage. “It was really cathartic,” the actress recalled. “It felt like every day was a yoga class in anger; like laughing yoga, this was angry yoga.” Alexander’s character, she shared with Interview, “became the tonic to [her] soul.” In the film’s most moving scene, the pair ends up at a local bar following a day of costumed role-playing. Slouched and silent in their seats like sad mimes, Rose suddenly grows restless and gets up to use the bar’s phone (having chucked hers out the car window in the film’s opening minutes). Doing a deliberately poor impression of her husband’s mistress, she leaves him a long and upsetting (and at times very funny!) voicemail. As Alexander told us, “[The Dish & the Spoon] is a story about people who aren’t very good at being people.” Rose and her new friend set sail into their own private world for a couple of days—navigating those plunging and sometimes hilarious whims that follow heartbreak—and ambling from impromptu dance recitals to mock wedding photos to a wobbly summer getaway house, where sitting close is crucial to staying warm.