Dave Made a Maze  exists as a love letter to the creative process in all its messy glory, and if that letter just happens to be delicately folded into the shape of a peculiar yet vaguely menacing animal, then all the better!
This is the maze that Dave made. Baby-faced comedian Nick Thune stars as Dave, a directionless 30-something who just can’t seem to finish anything he starts. His girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) returns home from a weekend away to find what looks like a steampunk cardboard fort in their living room. This is the maze Dave made, and he’s inside somewhere, his voice distant and anxious. What started off as a simple maze is now more of a labyrinth; it’s developed a mind of its own, and Dave’s not sure he’ll be able to finish building it. Along with Annie, we’re immediately plunged into the emotional duality of the film: narratively and visually, this is completely ridiculous, but emotionally it’s very real. Despite Dave’s insistence that it’s too dangerous for anyone else to enter, Annie soon finds herself mounting a rescue mission to enter the maze and retrieve her loser boyfriend. She’s joined by a gang of friends and strangers who converged on the apartment to throw an impromptu maze party, including Dave’s best friend Gordon (Buffy’s Adam Busch), chirpy hipster duo Greg and Bryn (OK Go’s Timothy Norwind, and Stephanie Allynne of the improv team Wild Horses), excitable blonde Jane (Kirsten Vangsness from Criminal Minds), an amateur documentary film crew led by buddy Harry (The Venture Bros.’s James Urbaniak), a couple of clueless Flemish tourists, and other pals and hobos. The plentiful and varied crowd here is a bit hard to keep track of but lends itself to the chaotic vibe that pervades the whole film.
This is the sense of anarchic joy that lives in the maze that Dave made. From the very first frame of the goofily animated credits and the first few fuzzy notes of The Equals’ Diversion (a song I have just spent $0.99 to own specifically because this movie made it sound cool as hell), I knew I was in for something special. This movie is loud and proud and shouts it's totally nonsense premise from the rooftops. Even in quiet, serious moments, there’s a sense of play threaded through every scene. Once you get a glimpse inside the maze, the uncanny visuals and weird twists and turns never let you forget this is supposed to be fun, a journey into something truly silly, but no less special because of it.
This is the DIY aesthetic that fuels the sense of anarchic joy in the maze the Dave made. From the smallest details to the grandest sets, everything you see here, even some of the characters, appear to have been lovingly and painstakingly handcrafted. The main material used is obviously cardboard, which, instead of flattening the film into a monochrome, gives it texture and dimension most of the time. We also encounter paper cranes, yarn, glitter, playing cards, and all manner of other found craft items, all serving an alternate purpose. It all gives off a profound sense of being doable, which may leave viewers itching to take up paper and scissors themselves after the movie ends.
This is the deeper meaning behind the DIY aesthetic that fuels the sense of anarchic joy in the maze that Dave made. I’ve rarely seen a movie that so perfectly describes the creative process. There was no grand plan, Dave just started building because he wanted to make something, and by the time Annie discovers the structure with Dave inside it, it’s expanded far beyond his ability to control it. Some parts of it become destructive, others grow and spread without his consent. It has the power to wound, maybe even to kill. Still, he’s intent on finishing it, aware that it’s something meaningful and important, bigger than himself. We see him express this in an interview for Harry’s documentary film. The presence of Harry and his crew of Laurel-and-Hardly-like cameraman and sound guy lends a second dimension to what we see and has a distancing effect, framing certain moments outside their context, wringing talking head interviews out of reluctant participants and capturing rehearsed one-liners. Harry isn’t trying to show the truth of the maze, he’s trying to make his own thing, a second-generation great idea, paler and less exciting. An early exchange between Annie and Dave says so much about the fragility of art when it’s still in the process of being born: crouched behind the maze, Annie tries to create a bit of privacy. “This is stupid,” she tells Dave, clearly embarrassed at his behavior. “Not from in here,” Dave replies earnestly. From his point of view, the maze is real and serious, although he’s aware of how ridiculous it may look to others, even to his significant other.
Help me, I’m lost. The core of the film rests on the relationship between Dave and Annie. Much like Seurat in Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, Dave is in uncharted territory, creating something no one else really understands and hoping that his connection with Annie will survive this creative process. Nick Thune brings an impressive vulnerability to the role, really broadcasting the sadness and loneliness of a guy who’s spent a lot of time drifting aimlessly and now worries he’s lost the faith of those closest to him. For her part, Meera Rohit Kumbhani plays Annie with a no-nonsense strength that makes her instantly likable. The two of them together radiate not just chemistry, but a sense of history, and you find yourself rooting for them once it becomes clear that their connection is really what’s at the core of the film, and the center of the labyrinth.