Dolly Wells’ Good Posture will grow on you. What starts as a disaffected-young-artist-in-Brooklyn indie that we’ve seen before becomes a sweet study of what trying to be happy looks like. A lot of the credit goes to the performer behind that disaffected young artist, Grace Van Patten, who carries a movie that relies on subtle signs of charm and caring.
Van Patten’s Lillian gets broken up within the movie’s opening scene, forcing her to stay with vague family friends Don (Eben Moss-Bachrach) and Julia (Emily Mortimer). Don, the nice one, exits the scene and his marriage soon after, leaving Lillian alone with the reclusive Julia Price, a novelist of great acclaim and little facility for kindness. A home cooked dinner and plant maintenance is the price Lillian pays in lieu of rent, and the pair’s relationship is confined to the meals Lillian leaves outside Julia’s door, and the notes of scorn and sarcasm that they pass back and forth.
Lillian’s desire to understand all the fuss about Julia’s work drives the plot forward, giving Lillian her first ambitious project. She commits to making a documentary about Julia’s life in a hilarious moment of desperation, and with that uninformed decision, Lillian becomes an artist.
Good Posture’s opening 30 minutes lay it on a little thick. Scene after scene offers a portrait of a depressed woman who has no use for the outside world when she can instead stay home, smoke weed, doodle, and leave video messages for her absentee father. The movie’s universe quite literally expands when Lillian begins to venture out of the house, initially to check-in on her ex and accompany Julia’s dog-walker to the park.
The introduction of George (Timm Sharp), the dog-walker with swooping hair and a decent mustache, broadens the movie’s emotional palette. George is good-looking and awkward, but a different good-looking and awkward than Lillian. While Lillian is sharp and closed-off, George is hamstrung in expressing himself. They’re both living deeply internal lives, Lillian by choice, and George by disposition. There’s an unspoken understanding between them, that their superficially-cross interactions are in fact comforting for both participants.
As George pops up to mirror Lillian’s emotional turbulence, John Early’s Sol shows up and shows off the other side of being an artist: over-the-top, wayward creativity. Early kills it as the comic relief, Lillian’s hired gun cinematographer who’s trying to change his name to something more enigmatic. Good Posture’s optimistic side kicks in as soon as Lillian and Sol meet, as Lillian allows herself to have fun, or at least be entertained, for the first time. Their faux project, the documentary about which Lillian is exactly half-serious, gives her real energy, and we see her begin to make an effort with everyone from George to Julia.
The relationship between Lillian and Julia is the story’s center, but the pair share little time together on the screen. The drama is subterranean; Lillian wants Julia’s love and respect, and Julia wants Lillian to inspire her out of depression. Mutual inspiration grows from these dueling, hidden desires. The need for Julia’s admiration drives Lillian out of the house, a new reality which gives Lillian hope, and we assume, writing material.
The concern of Good Posture is not how artists create, but the relationships which make that creation possible. How do people work on their artistry and their happiness at the same time is the question at play. Lillian tackles the happiness part of the equation while Julia addresses the artistry, and the sharing of that individual work makes them both less alone.
This is a surprising movie of great optimism. The message at its center, that working on oneself if worthwhile, offers viewers the chance to leave the theater calm and light. Van Patten’s the one doing the work, parlaying insecure gruffness into confidence over the course of 90 minutes. The assuredness of Van Patten’s performance and Wells’s script makes possible a celebration of the act of trying.
We screened the film at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.