A betrayed wife goes on a rampage and picks up a fey British urchin in “The Dish & the Spoon,” a moody two-hander from Alison Bagnall. As the spurned woman, Greta Gerwig acts out her rage in unpredictable spurts of violence, the self-evident lameness of her actions adding to her frustration, while Olly Alexander’s unnamed teen sympathetically tags along. Pic takes full advantage of its melancholy setting, a Delaware resort area during the off season, as the unlikely twosome samples local attractions and wanders deserted beaches. Gerwig’s rising star power could lure auds to this almost fairy tale-like reverie, a distinctly feminine twist on mumblecore minimalism.
Pic opens with Rose behind the wheel in her pajamas, having obviously stormed out of her home with little money and plenty of anger. Stopping to camp out at an abandoned lighthouse, she discovers a shivering, coughing teenage lad whom she bundles up and carts off with her. The Boy (Alexander), his vaguely Victorian attire far too flimsy for winter, tells a plaintive tale of coming to the States to join a sweetheart who dumped him for another. They hole up in Rose’s parents’ summer house on the coast, trading backstories around the fire.
Driven by a lethal fury, Rose is hellbent on finding her husband’s paramour, Emma, but the woman’s empty house proves impervious to screamed threats and impassioned poundings. In between Emma-hunting, Rose and the Boy get falling-down drunk on a guided tour of a brewery, watch Canadian geese fly overhead, go fishing on a local trawler and even dress up for an energetic afternoon of 18th-century country dances.
As they drift steadily further away from day-to-day normalcy, Rose’s unmitigated pain and resentment take increasingly strange form: She dons male apparel (to striking effect) and convincingly decks out the Boy in drag, applying her version of masculine oppression. But helmer-scripter Bagnall sidesteps tragedy or even mild catastrophe: When Rose returns to the bar where she left the dress-clad Boy, she discovers him entertaining patrons on the piano.
Bagnall, whose previous efforts involved less winsomely mismatched couples (she co-scripted Vincent Gallo’s “Buffalo 66” and wrote and directed 2003’s “Piggie”), here charts the progress of an emotional meltdown that generates a pairing rather than developing from one. And Bagnall successfully exploits the seriocomic disparity between the supercharged relationship offscreen and the desultory one onscreen.
Gerwig, charmingly unflappable in “Greenberg,” lets it all hang out here, unafraid to sacrifice likability to over-the-top hysteria as someone who cannot control herself, despite a lingering sense of her own absurdity. Alexander proves a worthily understated foil, his self-deprecatory whimsy recalling that of a young Johnny Depp. Other thesps, including the ubiquitous Amy Seimetz (who also produced) essay minimal roles, though Adam Rothenberg impresses in his brief appearance as Rose’s husband.
The pic’s visual grounding in weathered locations along the Delaware shore grants texture and unpredictability to the characters’ perambulations.