Gentle but sharply observed, “Good Posture” is an uncommon cinematic look at an intergenerational female relationship. The directorial debut of “Doll and Em” co-creator Dolly Wells (you may remember her as the gullible book store clerk in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?“), “Good Posture” doesn’t concern itself with romance, quickly sidelining the men in each woman’s life in its opening minutes. Instead, this charming comedy focuses itself on the creative growth of its female leads and their evolving connection to each other, accomplishing the rare feat of making a character-focused, Brooklyn-set indie feel fresh.
Twenty-something film school grad Lillian (Grace Van Patten) is introduced media res, mid-breakup with her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, Nate (Gary Richardson). He’s tired of how self-absorbed she is, her lack of drive and inability to properly handle the recycling—or any task or basic requirement of adulthood. Lillian’s suffers from an acute case of millennial entitlement and is self-obsessed, aimless, and rootless, knowing few people in New York and sending unanswered messages to her absentee musician father (Norbert Leo Butz) in Paris. He’s well-connected, but unable to make a connection to his daughter. In lieu of having a conversation, he has secured her a room in an apartment where she can stay until he returns to New York.
That brownstone belongs to famed reclusive writer Julia Price (Emily Mortimer) and her aspiring musician husband, Don (Ebon Moss-Bachrach from “Girls”). Lillian’s arrival quickly elevates the tensions in their marriage, and Don is soon out the door, leaving Lillian alone with Julia, who she’s found abrasive and judgmental from the first moment. Lillian is no saint, helping herself to Julia’s toothbrush and robe and behaving with little concern for anyone else’s feelings or property. The author rarely leaves her room, so the already-clashing women communicate via acid-tinged notes left in a journal. But soon, the tenor of the notes change, as both Lillian and Julia begin to grow a little and evolve their estimations of one another. Soon connection, understanding, and even trust build.
Wells’ script is genuine and funny, authentic in its insights into real-feeling humans and their connections. “Good Posture” presents us with characters whose flaws it recognizes but refuses to judge. There’s plenty not to like about both Lillian and Julia, but they’re endearing nonetheless. Mortimer (Wells’ friend, as well as co-creator and co-star on “Doll and Em”) is given billing, but is more an unseen presence, living largely through her witty correspondence to Julia. But when she does appear, we’re reminded of what’s always made Mortimer such a compelling on-screen presence all these years. She’s quiet here both in delivery and quantity of speech, but each word is delivered with the precision you’d expect from her writer character who values words so dearly, and we, like Lillian, ultimately, want more of Julia. Meanwhile, Lillian is omnipresent, but we still want more of her, thanks to Van Patten’s terrific performance. She’s selfish as only a privileged recent college grad can be, but utterly magnetic in each moment she’s on screen.
“Good Posture” treats its audience with intelligence and doesn’t feel the need to explain everything, trusting the viewer will have what they need to understand what’s happening and who these people are. It feels lived in, in both the story it presents and the world it creates in both the brownstone and the borough as a whole. There’s a wary, but still clear, affection for Brooklyn, particularly its subcultures around writers, filmmaking, and dogs. But it’s really the film’s depiction of how women of different generations can relate to each other that is its true strength. On its surface, “Good Posture” may seem like a Gen-X vs. Millennials female face-off, with Lillian seeing the older Julia as out-of-touch and boring, and Julia judging Lillian for being self-obsessed and immature. However, there’s more at play here, and “Good Posture” explores their complex, competitive dynamic with grace. In her directorial debut, Wells’ style is intimate and unflinching with cinematography by Ryan Eddleston that is full of close-ups that do great work in highlighting the strong performances from Mortimer and Van Patten.
Like Wells’ own “Doll and Em,” “Good Posture” deserves praise for how it handles the relationship between two women in ways that are rarely depicted on screen, but the first-time director is still mining new territory here. Her HBO comedy series gave audiences a poignant look at a long-term friendship, but her feature debut demonstrates not only what a relationship between two very different women looks like in its infancy, but all the complicated dynamics that go with it with true authenticity. Featuring flawed, but fascinating characters, “Good Posture” is as smart and creative as these three-dimensional people, and charming and genuine to boot. [B+]