Here’s a first-time feature (director/co-writer Bill Watterson along with Steven Sears) that may have some viewers changing the channel after the opening scenes (I was almost in their number, but something told me there were better things to come than just cardboard cartons filling a living room).
The Dave of the title is a barely thirty man whose—it seems—only ambition is to build something. Nothing particularly strange about that except in this instance, nothing is ever completed (a to-do list filled with lots of content but no “ticks”). It falls to Nick Thune in the title role and girlfriend (one must assume he never ‘finished” this relationship in marriage), Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) to carry the production and they do their level best to find the centre of the plot, mould it into a chrysalis that will blossom into moments of insight and understanding before making the world a better place by its destruction.
Here, the cocoon is built almost entirely with cardboard and paper: Dave’s maze being more of a complex labyrinth filled with dead ends, booby traps and—well why not?—a bloodthirsty minotaur (John Hennigan doing the honours with a chest to—in several cases literally—die for).
Three cheers indeed for the art department (production designers Trisha Gum, John Summer; John White’s ever-inventive art direction, readily complemented by Dan Selon’s costumes and the entire special effects crew), which keeps the eye engaged even as the plot points move or occasionally stumble along on this metaphoric journey into self-esteem and hoped-for achievement. The origami are superb creations.
To keep the atmosphere lighthearted, even as serious subject matter is explored, the writers populate their characters with comedic types of all sorts ranging from bearded Gordon (Adam Busch displaying a droll delivery and expert timing) to the oh-so-convenient-to-have documentary director (James Urbaniak provides a wonderful sendup of full-of-themselves filmmakers). The Flemish tourists never really get to speak for themselves…
The problem for Watterson is trying to be all things to all people (humourist, satirist, futurist, realist, emotionalist…) to the point where the bad taste of friends dying in aid of Dave’s quest for inner peace, seems like just as much fodder for the dumpster as the cardboard itself. JWR