In the wonderfully dysfunctional tradition of The Royal Tenenbaums, teenage years are always messy... but for Maude, things couldn't seem more tragic. Within one week just prior to her 18th birthday, she is suspended from school, stranded by her best friend, dumped by the boy she "loves", and Granny just died leaving her an enormous amount of money under one condition: Maude must go to college which she does not want to do and her wildly eccentric family is no help at all. Of course...It's a comedy!
Two-Bit Waltz lets us into the three worlds of a very creative high school girl. There is her own reality in which she relays her suicidal plight to a psychiatrist. There is her own recollection of past events in which everybody in her life seems to exist as colorful characters of deadpan and calculated deliveries. And there is the grassy plains of her own creative consciousness where whimsical looking beings tantalize and encourage her ideas. Though messy and very random, I have to admit that this aspect has an uncanny realization to the mindset of a floundering prodigy.
The girl in question is Maude (Clara Mamet), a struggling young writer torn by her desire to write a novel and all the baggage of her current life. Her parents are weirdos with her mother (Rebecca Pidgeon) forcefully pushing her in strange directions and her dad (William H. Macy) constantly with his nose in books. Her brother is an analytical nerd who talks more sternly to her than her father. When her grandma dies, she leaves five million dollars towards her college fund, but she has to make a decision. All of this and her romantic fascination with a boy working the projector at the local theater make her life one big ticking time bomb set to go off where it seems like the only way to cut the wires is cut your wrist. Mind you, this is all how Maude recounts the series of events. It’s left up to the audience to decide how much of it is real and how much of it is amped up from her imagination.
Sometimes it is slightly obvious in the way all the dialogue from her memories are mostly monotone and delivered at rapid fire as if she were trapped somewhere between Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums and Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. All of them amble quickly through their streams of dialogue and connect to the other at a brisk pace. There is a definite lack of emotion in many of these scenes, but perhaps that’s just how Maude views her life by pushing the emotion of reality into a corner. It just seems much more fun to make the players in her life more weird than they may or may not be. Her mother in particular is seen as incredibly crazy in a scene where she gives her high school son a bath while reading poetry and wearing a rabbit hat.
The moments in Maude’s head are delightfully abstract and have a free vibe to her manner of thinking. When told by one of her friends to eat some real food besides crackers, she retreats to her mind where she is a cracker salesman selling comfort for a mere 40 calories. In this field are a series of half-thought characters milling about, awaiting her order to take shape in her novel. A series of well-dressed individuals in animal masks act as her encouragement, supporting her ideas and taking a vote about when she should start writing.
The tone of Two-Bit Waltz is strictly off-beat. It could easily go for a blue mood with all the tensions and frustrations, but Maude views her world with a quirky wonder. She attempts to find some heart and humor with the deadpan setup of every scene. The one tether to her seemingly true reality is the first perspective of recounting her story to the psychiatrist. But even that carries an air of otherworldliness as when the doctor translates the true moral in the English of a teenager. It’s hilarious the way he delivers that epiphany moment like one large slap in the face to hipster high school students everywhere.
Two-Bit Waltz is very bizarre and may be a tad too quirky for most, but I found it just intriguing enough in the way it was assembled. Through its deadpan and often juvenile lens, it finds a peculiar satisfaction for how life can be grander than the stage that is set. It’d be easy enough to brush this off as just another quaint indie comedy, but I thought there was just a little more here than usual. At the very least, I applaud the film for giving creative youth a valid and relatable reason to carry on.