Alison Bagnall's The Dish and the Spoon opens with Rose (Greta Gerwig) despondently crying as she drives to the beach—clad in pajama bottoms, a boxy coat, and knit cap—after discovering her husband's infidelity. Taking refuge from the winter air in a WWII watchtower, she discovers a young British drifter (Olly Alexander) shivering inside. The boy is clearly taken with Rose and the two run off to stay in her parents' decaying summer house while Rose works through her pain, alternately connecting with the boy and making unhinged calls to her husband or Emma, his mistress.
Together Rose and the boy (whose name she doesn't ask for and never learns) explore a brewery, stealing beer and drunkenly falling asleep in the processing area; pose as a nineteenth century couple on their wedding day for olden tymes photos; and go English country dancing in full costume. Impressively, none of it comes across as twee but as the only entertainment or distraction in a winter beach town. Gerwig's Rose is genuinely affected by her despair but never slips into a generic "crazy" performance that could easily happen in such a role. It's offset with a genuine vulnerability that comes out in her tender play-acting with the boy, who is likely 18 or 19 but has a baby face that makes him seem innocent, nonthreatening, and, in contrast to Rose's dowdy façade, beautiful. As Rose, Gerwig subverts her own persona as the newest indie dream girl, with her realistically body-wrenching crying fits, obsessive anger, and boxy clothes. It's a far cry from her turn as a doe-eyed pixie in Hannah Takes the Stairs. At the film's premiere at SXSW, Bagnall explained the choice to style Gerwig plainly, "[The movie] was about doing something different with Greta. She'd had to be nude in several films and felt exposed. I said, 'Let's put some mystery back in your body.' "
The Dish and the Spoon includes a tender exploration of gender and power within relationships, as well. In one scene, Rose and the boy dress in drag and head out to a restaurant, self-consciously speaking to each other in the gendered script of a 1940s movie, but with the gender roles flipped. Rose's performance of masculinity allows an exploration of her husband's actions through playing him. She leaves his mistress a voicemail in character, imagining her husband's compliments to her. ("You're beautiful and perfect. You teach yoga. You're hot. And little.") Rose complains about her own behavior as she guesses her husband would, taking a cut at herself for being too intense and "gaining weight," (which, let it be known, is a humorous way to describe Gerwig as an actress, whose frame most would consider average-to-slim).
Even as she's playful with the boy, Rose has a violent undercurrent, directing most of her ire at Emma (whom she later assaults), leaving viewers wondering why she isn't pointing her rage toward the man who broke her trust. Bagnall—who wrote, directed and produced the film—stated her inspiration for The Dish and the Spoon was partly out of the stories of scorned women in the news, such as astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak who drove cross-country to kidnap a "romantic rival." As Bagnall discussed in the SXSW blog, "I was eager to explore how an otherwise fairly stable person can become insane, even criminal, after a sexual betrayal." Rose's incoherent raging at her husband is more humorous than painful as viewers witness the ridiculousness of someone undone by heartache—until, of course, Rose faces Emma and the manifestation of her rage becomes all too real.
Bagnall shot The Dish and the Spoon in the retro seaside town of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware during the winter season. The stark, empty expanses give the cinematography a melancholy feel, but it's not as depressing as it sounds. Bagnall doesn't ask viewers to empathize with Rose's pain so much as witness and walk through it, recalling their own heartaches through the hazy, nostalgic feeling of her lens where each moment glows with the immediacy of raw pain and the distance of forgotten memories.