Lewis manages to create an engaging and personal female centric counterpart to the typical Hollywood bromance.
“I can’t believe I’m this desperate to hold onto my buzz.”
By David Feltman
While Hollywood scripts are, for better or worse, rewritten and touched up on average by six to seven different people, ambitious indie auteurs, like Mark Lewis, write, direct, produce and edit everything by themselves. Such low budget, single credit indie films trade the collaborative polish for freedom and a more singular vision. Lewis’ sophomore effort, “Wild Girl Waltz,” may lack the wild stunts and grand set pieces of one of “The Hangover” movies but, for a film shot in eight days on a $10,000 budget, Lewis manages to create an engaging and personal female centric counterpart to the typical Hollywood bromance.
The simplistic story is really more premise than plot: two friends (Christina Shipp and Samantha Steinmetz) down recreational pills to pass the afternoon and hijack a cranky boyfriend (Jason Sterns) to play designated dad for their cross-town trip. Lewis wisely takes advantage of his surroundings, using petting zoos and community centers to imbue the film with local color.
“It was filmed in West Massachusetts,” says Lewis. “I’m not from the south, but I’ve grown up in what I call the ‘Yankee Redneck’ society. Small town life in the north is very similar to the south. There’s really only two differences: the accents [and] the headgear. Down south it’s the cowboy hat. Up north, it’s the baseball cap.”
“Wild Girl Waltz” feels like it could have been shot in any small rural town and its relaxed pace reinforces that impression. Indie stalwarts like Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater have popularized the dialogue driven, slice of life indie film and Lewis cribs from their playbooks. Nothing really ever happens in the action of the film, but the relationships between the three principal characters successfully pulls the weight of the movie, with pop culture minutia and shit shooting dialogue peppered in for laughs.
Working on a micro budget and an ultra tight shooting window, Lewis makes the production look effortless despite all of the planning and work it required. It’s the sort of film that makes you want to pick up a camera too.
“When you have such a low budget, you need to give yourself a lot of time to balance it out,” says Lewis. “I gave myself about five months to prep, schedule and cast. Especially casting. Bad acting is the most damaging factor in most low budget films.”
“I didn’t have a chance to rehearse with the actors beforehand, [but] I had a solid script to start with. It turns out that the cast [was] great at improvising, so while we didn’t invent new scenes, they did take a lot of the rough edges off the dialogue.”
The film suffers from the expected drawbacks of small budget productions, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. Lines are sometimes overwritten and delivered stiffly, but the scenes and the actors casted feel natural in the local setting. But for a film named “Wild Girl Waltz,” one that presents itself as a small town girl-power reimagining of the bromance genre, its biggest weakness lies in the strange, misogynistic currents that flow through Stern’s dialogue. Referring to the girls as “yammering hens” and “annoying skanks” may have been meant as playful but come across hateful. And after an altercation with a woman attempting to rob him, Stern editorializes, “Women are always squawking about wanting equality. You’re never gonna get full equality until you can do two things: outlaw alimony and learn to take a punch without calling the cops.” It’s the sort of thing that pulls you out of an otherwise charming film.
With so many lackluster and generally soulless movies out there, a small homemade film like “Wild Girl Waltz” is refreshing even with its warts. Lewis’ ability to create something fun and entertaining with so few resources is admirable and makes him a filmmaker worth watching.
“I really think there’s a difference between a movie about women and a ‘chick flick,’” says Lewis. “I don’t think a guy would have to be dragged kicking and screaming to this movie.”
Read more about “Wild Girl Waltz” and Mark Lewis at the official website.