In actress-turned-filmmaker Dolly Wells’ likeable but uneven debut, twentysomething New York resident Lilian (Grace Van Patten) is drifting through life. When her boyfriend calls time on their relationship, she can’t muster the energy to move away. Instead, she takes up residence down the street with friends of her father’s – Julia (Emily Mortimer), a famous novelist, and her musician husband.
When a domestic squall leads to the exit of the husband, our anti-hero finds herself alone in the house with the thorny Julia, a writer at odds with the world, who communicates mostly by leaving spiky little notes in Lilian’s journal.
Van Patten (‘The Meyerowitz Stories’) plays Lilian as an infuriating, lazy and endearingly lost woman-child. There’s something of Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha about her, as she takes credit for other people’s creations and uses towels and toothbrushes without regard for their owners. But while Ha barrels along, Wells’ young protagonist squirrels herself away. Lilian only interacts with the world when she embarks on a documentary about her landlady to impress an ex.
Mortimer is an intriguingly elusive presence. Julia is heard much more than she’s seen for most of the film. Instead, her story is told through talking heads with famous literary faces (Zadie Smith, Jonathan Ames and Martin Amis) playing fictional versions of themselves. Wells uses the device well, revealing a gentleness to Julia that is absent on screen.
All in all, there are moments of beauty in Wells’ poetic and promising debut, but she still feels like a director finding her feet. The resolution, when it comes, is surprising and rushed, but a sweet scene finally reuniting the two women on screen leaves you with a warmth that the film perhaps doesn’t completely warrant.