'Good Posture': Film Review | Tribeca 2019

Jeong Park
A forgiving, gently funny look at post-college cluelessness.

For her filmmaking debut, 'Doll & Em' co-creator Dolly Wells moves offscreen, pairing longtime collaborator Emily Mortimer with Grace Van Patten as unhappy housemates.

On Doll & Em, the TV series she created with co-star Emily Mortimer, Dolly Wells played a woman who took refuge from life's disappointments via a job as personal assistant to her best friend, a successful Hollywood actress. In her big-screen debut as writer-director, Wells widens that power differential, sending a privileged but aimless young woman to live with a genius who won't even speak to her. A finding-yourself dramedy grounded in a sense of place that's socioeconomic as much as geographical, the warm-hearted film Good Posture is an understated but assured debut for the actor, carrying some of her series' emotional energy into a less fussy milieu of creative professionals.

Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy is the kind of rapidly gentrifying neighborhood where youths renting their first apartments might share a block with established authors who have found whole houses they can afford to buy. So it's only a mildly outrageous coincidence that when Lillian (Grace Van Patten) breaks up with the boyfriend she has just moved to New York for (Gary Richardson's Nate), the grown-up place her father has found for her is just a few doors away: Daddy, a music-biz figure of some sort, has called in a favor from an aspiring songwriter named Don (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who will give Lillian a closet-sized bedroom in the house he shares with his wife, esteemed novelist Julia Price (Emily Mortimer).

Julia is not thrilled. An author known for reclusiveness, she spends all day working in a closed upstairs room. After a marital spat sends Don off to find other quarters, it's as if Lillian has a ghost for a housemate — someone felt but never seen or heard, communicating her displeasure via notes left stealthily when Lillian's not around. (Timm Sharp's amusing George, a dog-walker who lives in the basement, is less withholding on the subject of Lillian's shortcomings.)

There's plenty to be displeased with. Lillian is the kind of houseguest who will not only wear your robe but use your toothbrush. She will smoke in the bedroom without asking, and be high when she ought to make polite conversation. Such is the film's compassion for this beautiful but lazy and solipsistic kid that viewers tolerate her longer than they might otherwise, laying the blame for her crumminess at her similarly self-absorbed father (Norbert Leo Butz). Dad's in Paris with his new girlfriend, and he never replies to the eager messages Lillian sends; he appears to think he's doing his duty if he wires money or makes practical arrangements whenever his child gets herself in a bind.

So when Lillian is blindsided to see Nate with a new girlfriend (Condola Rashad) who is far more with it than she is, and she desperately lies that she's making a documentary about the publicity-averse Julia, Dad rents her a tiny studio from afar and convinces authors he knows to participate. Though she has yet to read any of Julia's books, Lillian and her new cinematographer Sol (John Early, a flamboyant performer in a cast of introverts) are soon interviewing Zadie Smith, Jonathan Ames and Martin Amis. It's amusing to watch three literary figures share "their" insights into a fictitious peer — presumably, Wells wrote their dialogue or at least sketched the direction it should take, but each sounds just like the person we expect, and they describe a woman whose books we'd like to read. And Ames, in the quirkiest of the interviews, hints at the bigger social scene to which all these creative adults belong, one that will eventually shed some light on Julia's standoffish but not entirely mean attitude toward her guest.

Onscreen in only a couple of scenes, Mortimer exists mostly as a voice (she reads Julia's snarky notes in voiceover) and in the mild anxiety she inspires in Lillian. Van Patten makes her character the sort whose lousy behavior carries no malice, who makes quiet adjustments (without necessarily apologizing) when it's clear she has gone too far. By the time the two women meet again face to face, we're ready to see them become friends.

Happily, Wells doesn't exploit that moment; she moves her characters through the plot point like women who are by no means sure they're fit to spend time with others. The movie is too pleasant to let us worry for either character's future. But their respective happy endings will take place at least a block or two out of frame.

Production company: Talland Films
Cast: Grace Van Patten, Emily Mortimer, Timm Sharp, John Early, Gary Richardson, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Condola Rashad
Director-screenwriter: Dolly Wells
Producers: Jamie Adams, Maggie Monteith
Executive producers: James Norrie, Bob Portal, Chris Reed
Director of photography: Ryan Eddleston
Production designer: Charlotte Abbott
Costume designer: Emmanuelle Martin
Editor: Adelina Bichis
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative)
Sales: Timo Suomi, AMP International

91 minutes