Good Posture review: Emily Mortimer stars as reclusive author in touching comedy-drama

The directorial debut of actor Dolly Wells, the film’s script features the kind of complicated, delightfully flawed women you could see Wells herself having played at different points in her career

Clarisse Loughrey
Thursday 03 October 2019 13:36 BST
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Emily Mortimer and Grace Van Patten in the trailer for Dolly Wells's Good Posture

Dir: Dolly Wells. Starring: Grace Van Patten, Emily Mortimer, Timm Sharp, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, John Early and Nat Wolff. 15 cert, 91 mins

Actors-turned-directors have never been the most reliable bunch, but they’re good for one thing: they never short-change their own cast. At the end of the day, they’re always after the kind of characters they’ve dreamt of playing. Dolly Wells, who played Melissa McCarthy’s sweet-natured love interest in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, isn’t any different. Although she stays firmly behind the camera for her debut, Good Posture, her script features the kind of complicated, delightfully flawed women you could see Wells herself having played at different points in her career. And, even when the film around them gets a little shaky, she never lets them lose their spark.

Lilian (Grace Van Patten), a headstrong graduate, is lodging with Julia (Emily Mortimer), a famously reclusive author, and her husband Don (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). The couple are just one of the many wealthy and accomplished New Yorkers who occupy the same social circles as Julia’s father (Norbert Leo Butz). At first, she isn’t the most appealing houseguest. We’re introduced to Lilian flaws-first, in the middle of a break-up. Her ex (Gary Richardson) says she’s the kind of person who goes to take a shower without bringing a towel. She’s so privileged that the idea of consequences is beyond her. Within hours of getting kicked out of Nate’s place and moving in with her new hosts, Lilian sparks a fight that causes Don to flee and Julia to bar herself in her room. The house becomes a ghost town, until Lilian discovers a list of demands scribbled in her personal journal. She turns the page and writes a rebuttal.

Lilian and Julia’s exchanges eventually start to soften as they open up to each other, poking and prodding each other’s egos with a kind of scientific curiosity. It becomes clear that they’re kindred spirits. Yet they never would have shown this amount of vulnerability if they’d been forced to hash it out in person. It’s a touching note to a film that would otherwise be hard to differentiate between every other coming-of-age film about a rich New Yorker: montages of bustling city streets, a score that’s cloying in a way that undercuts the maturity of the script, and a general apathy to the idea of actually working for a living.

But Wells’s strength is in her characters. As with her acting roles, she approaches them with care and subtlety. In many ways, Lilian is unlikable, but we can guess why she turned out that way. Her father sends her all the money she could ever need, but he’s too busy gallivanting around Paris with his new girlfriend (Emmanuelle Martin) to actually fulfil his role as a parent. She has no one else, since her mother is dead and she doesn’t seem to have any siblings. And, while that hint of personal tragedy isn’t an attempt to absolve her of her flaws, Van Patten finds enough flickers of tenderness and fragility that we end up rooting for her anyway – perhaps against our better judgements.

Mortimer, who co-created the Sky Living series Doll & Em with Wells, barely appears in the film. We’re left to piece together her character just as Lilian does, through her writing or through the trio of testimonies from real-life authors – Zadie Smith, Jonathan Ames, and Martin Amis (all playing themselves) – that form part of a documentary about her. It’s commendable how many risks Wells takes in crafting both Lilian and Julia. Whatever weaknesses the film might have, their success as characters is proof in itself that she has a bright future as a director.

Good Posture is released in UK cinemas on 4 October

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