Dave Wrote a Review

A lot of people see the word 'quaint' as being chiefly derogatory in nature, something obsolete, though quaint can also mean that something is skillfully designed, beautiful, unusual or different, and nostalgic. There aren’t many movies I would describe as quaint, but Dave Made a Maze is one of them. Everything about it feels nostalgic for the days of making box-forts, evocative of elaborately laid-out childhood labyrinths, and even a little silly at times that something as basic as cardboard is being used so seriously in cinema. Maybe it’s because I’m 25 years old on the verge of nothing that Dave Made a Maze resonated with me so keenly—the sting of a string of failures, having nothing tangible to show for my effort, and no real prospects for the future. Or, maybe it’s that ultimately, it’s hopeful.  That all you can do is try.

Dave Made a Maze has a lot going for it: a conservative runtime of 80 minutes (just long enough that the silly premise doesn’t overstay its welcome), a good cast of performers who seem like they’re there to give it their gosh-darn best (which is very fitting here), and some outstanding prop and sound design.

Honestly, I can barely stand movies over two hours long, which is all of them these days.  Three hours?  Forget it.  Dave Made a Maze has tight writing that does the job and doesn’t spend too much time padding out the runtime.  In a movie where the main conceit is there’s a living cardboard labyrinth in a guy’s apartment, there are bound to be a plethora of visual gags; but, there is restraint here on the part of the filmmakers.  It’s clear throughout the movie that there’s no lack of creativity or ability in the use of its self-imposed cardboard and paper restriction, but the film never feels slowed down for the sake of one more joke. The writing is appropriately utilitarian.

There’re a lot of recognizable names among the cast list, but the two lead characters Dave (Nick Thune) and Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) really sold the thing.  I’m not going to say here that either of them turned out amazing performances, but they were both corny as hell, and in context with the rest of the movie, it works: Kumbhani’s exaggerated expressions as she’s told to express more childlike wonder, or Thune’s insistence on not being made to look like an asshole (but of course he does).  In a movie about adults playing in the logical extreme of a box-fort, it seems fitting that the acting feels hammed-up to match the situation.  I’ll assume it was intentional because it was perfect.

Holy moly though, everything else pales in comparison to the props and sound.  That cardboard labyrinth looked exactly like all of 10-year-old me’s wildest dreams.  And it’s not just the creativity of the sets either, but the way each aspect of this one idea is explored in the movie. When characters die in the maze, they erupt into confetti and streamers.  At one point they become the kind of brown bag puppets you made in elementary school. The whole thing makes me think of a Michel Gondry music video, and the use of creative sound design only solidifies this connection. A single note will sometimes play to announce a character entering the frame. Or, as in one scene, the music is directly related to a giant cardboard keyboard the cast interacts with.

It would be easy to write off Dave Made a Maze as a so-so first film from writer/director Bill Watterson if any of these elements didn’t work together, and taken in pieces, one could easily see how this movie might not work. When it all comes together though, it gives a sense of overblown wonder we associate with youth.  The same kind of hopeful naivete that comes from having made something we’re immensely proud of, even knowing it won’t last.