Good Posture

Breaking up with her boyfriend (Gary Richardson), introverted film-school grad Lilian (Grace Van Patten) moves out and in with reclusive writer Julia Price (Emily Mortimer). The pair instantly clash and start a passive-aggressive war of words in Lilian’s private journal.

By Ian Freer | Posted 13 days ago

You know you are squarely in New York indie territory when two characters start bonding by singing over an ukulele. Directed by Dolly Wells, co-creator of Doll & Em (with Emily Mortimer, who features here) and so good as Melissa McCarthy’s thwarted love interest in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Good Posture is a slight but enjoyable portrait of a young woman trying to find a direction in life. If it never graduates to becoming compelling, it’s an assured feature debut, built around strong character writing, confident filmmaking and a strong central performance from Grace Van Patten.

The challenge of making a film about a character that is listless and unmotivated is that you end up with a film that is listless and unmotivated. As such, there is a drifting quality to the early stages of the film. As Lilian (Van Patten) moves across the street from her ex-boyfriend (Gary Richardson)’s place and starts living with acclaimed writer Julia Price (Mortimer) and her musician husband Don (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), there is a morose quality to scenes of the lodger settling in, sharing spliffs and guitar sessions with Don, constantly Facetiming her uncaring dad (Norbert Leo Butz) and brief dismissive encounters with Julia. But things pick up when Don leaves and Lilian and Julia start leaving quietly antagonistic messages in the former’s journal. At this point, Lilian actually makes a decision — she is going to make a film about Julia without her knowledge and consent, without ever having read one of her books or ever having seen a documentary “all the way through”.

Grace Van Patten makes you stick with Lilian through her bad behaviour, mistakes, and downright laziness.

Wells’ directorial game is strong, lensing the film in somber hues and locating it firmly in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of New York, charting a neighbourhood, like Lilian, in transition. With Mortimer’s writer so private she is barely on-screen (her presence is largely reduced to reading out Julia’s spiky messages), Lilian gets other foils to play against; chiefly Timm Sharp as Julia’s strange dog walker and a terrific John Early as Lilian’s cartoonish, camp, skittish cameraman. The film also benefits greatly from deadpan cameos by leading literary lights Zadie Smith, Jonathan Ames and Martin Amis who give great soundbite about Julia’s literary genius for Lilian’s documentary.

But Good Posture is Van Patten’s show. Building on her role in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, she is practically in every frame and makes you stick with Lilian through her bad behaviour, mistakes, and downright laziness. Both her and her director have the generosity of spirit to realise Lilian is a work in progress. And by the ukulele sing-song, you feel she’ll get there.

It’s a small, lightweight picture but Good Posture is alive to the messy realities of becoming a grown-assed adult, becoming more charming and involving as it goes on. It also suggests a bright future for writer-director Dolly Wells.