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Two Bit Waltz
In Theaters: 12/05/2014
On Video: 12/23/2014
By: Matthew O'Connell
Two Bit Waltz
Just looking for the vintage pajama store. Carry on.
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Two Bit Waltz is a standard and overstylized coming-of-age story. It takes place in a present day setting where people use rotary phones and dress like it’s the 1970s, because – well, just because. Somewhere deep inside its obnoxiously quirky and unnecessarily anachronistic tone, there’s a story that could have stood on its own two legs. If only it wasn’t so concerned with being different.

This film feels so blatantly inspired by Wes Anderson that it could have been conceived by a character in one of his films. The main character, Maude (Clara Mamet), could be Max Fischer’s sister. She’s a strange, hostile, brilliant, disillusioned, chain-smoking teenager, and as the cliché goes – way too smart to do well in school.

When we meet Maude, we’re presented with a classic coming-of-age scenario condensed into a tightened time frame for heightened drama. In a very short amount of time, Maude gets suspended from school and dumped by the boy who took her virginity. She also watches her best friend move away, sees her grandmother die, and gets an ultimatum from a lawyer to either decide on a college by her 18th birthday or see her $5 million inheritance disappear.

There’s potential for compelling drama there, but as things move along, the movie is forcefully injected with doses of quirkiness that draw too much attention away from the core story and character. Our willingness to empathize with Maude is interrupted each time we’re intermittently tossed into her bland dreamscape (a field) filled with figurative characters (like a guy in a scuba suit and people in animal masks). That struggle to add meaning only detracts from the potency of what began as a genuine portrait of relatable problems. The core coming-of-age journey of a girl literally on the brink of adulthood, under amplified pressure in a condensed timeframe, could have had resonance.

But unnecessary symbolism, quick pacing, and perceived wit were given priority, leaving us with forced banter instead of focused emotional resonance. What’s more, every character outside of Maude feels like set dressing. They mostly pop up for the sake of participating in rhythmic dialogue exchanges, then quickly disappear. None of them feel real: They’re all stock roles buried in clichéd eccentricities rather than blossoming out of an inner depth.

Tight, creative editing (especially in the first 10 minutes), a short runtime, and the aforementioned quick banter do make the film fly by, though. And Clara Mamet — who not only starred as Maude but also wrote and directed the film — definitely has a voice. Just one that that needs some refining.