A few weeks ago I came home from work to find a large yellow envelope on my kitchen table. I knew immediately that it was Wild Girl Waltz. I was pleased because my week up to that point had been stressful and weird, and I badly needed a diversion. Since I didn’t have any psychedelic drugs myself, watching a movie about just that would have to suffice. With gusto, I tore open the envelope. I pulled out my copy of Wild Girl Waltz, somewhat in disbelief. Up to that point I had only written three posts for the blog and didn’t expect to be solicited for my (lack of) reviewing talents. The film’s director, Mark Lewis, sent me an email a week or so earlier, asking if I was interested in reviewing his movie, which was filmed in western Massachusetts–he mentioned this several times.
As for the actual film, it’s not bad…not bad for a movie shot in eight days for ten grand. The premise is simple and probably relatable to much of my generation. Two girlfriends , Tara and Angie (played by Samantha Steinmetz and Christina Shipp, respectively) decide to kill an afternoon at the former’s secluded wooded home by taking some “goofy pills”, actually just one pill each. Each girl takes something different; one is ecstasy and the other, who knows. For the movie’s sake, the pills kick in very quickly, and not long after Tara’s boyfriend Brain (Jared Stern) comes home. His character is the straight man, and thus, he is not amused by the two girls’ odd behavior. After some pestering, he soon becomes their ride around town. The crux of the movie involves the two girls goofing off and gallivanting around town, awkwardly interacting with townies they know, trying to hide their altered states. Of course, Brain loosens up along the way and goofs off a little bit himself, and all three of them learn the meaning of friendship by the end.
The two actresses take the comedic lead, particularly Christina Shipp, (who looks like Iggy Pop’s twin sister), and they do a good job. I think it’s safe to assume that there was a lot of improvising and going off-script. That’s when the movie is at its best, because there is chemistry between the actors. They make a good trio. There are some minor characters too, but none of them are really memorable. Moreover, there are even a few plot threads involving minor characters that are introduced but never developed, resolved or even explored. There is a scene in the beginning where Brian is asking for money he is owed from one of his townie friends. The guy doesn’t have the money, and there is some palpable tension between the characters…I kinda wanted to see what happens next. Unfortunately, we never do. This movie is purely episodic, new episodes only, no reruns, no sequels.
Movies about drug trips (possible a sub-genre of the road trip movie) like this one depend on well drawn characters and trippy visuals/raunchy, flashy sequences. Unfortunately, this movie kinda lacks both. If you read the synopsis and are expecting a wild, trippy movie, then you might be a little disappointed. I kept waiting for the Midnight Cowboy-esque party scene, or something akin to the hallucination scenes in Altered States–or anything with a psychedelic punch. But nothing happened, other than some lengthy pastoral shots of western Mass. There will be times during this movie when you’ll even question if Tara and Angie really ingested anything psychoactive at all. It seems to me like my morning cup of joe hits me harder than anything they took. If you walked in on someone watching this movie you’d probably have no idea that the two main characters are supposed to be high. I’m actually worried that unsuspecting youngsters who see this movie will take loads of pills and think it’s no big deal–I need to takes lots to feel anything.
The lack of psychedelic filmistic characteristics (you know what I mean, right dude?) could be overlooked if the comedy was a little sharper. The actors do a fine job, but maybe the material isn’t funny enough. There are several funny scenes…but none are laugh out loud funny. I guess cut them some slack because they didn’t have much time to film, but a pie to the face of someone unsuspecting and undeserving has been done many, many times before. In fact, I think it’s the first “joke” ever put on film. This movie is most effective when it’s not attempting overt comedy; the lengthy paddy cake scene comes to mind. To Wild Girl Waltz‘s credit though, the movie feels natural, and the tender, more subdued moments between characters has sweetness to it. Also, the relationships are dynamic and have nuance to them.
I want to thank filmmaker Mark Lewis for reaching out to me. One thing I’m learning about the indie movie scene is that most people involved show support for one another. So, I say check out this movie based on that fact alone. That said, I won’t say I love a film when I don’t. That said, Wild Girl Waltz is better and more interesting than a lot of comedies out of Hollywood.
Michael W Roberts is an Associate Writer for BOSTON INDEPENDENT FILM REVIEW.
An alumnus of the UMASS Amherst Journalism undergraduate program, Michael lives in Medford, MA and spends his time in local parks, contemplating life. Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.