The Arty Semite

Clara Mamet Makes a Movie

By Curt Schleier

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“Two-Bit Waltz” is a small independent film about teenage alienation that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 19. But before you say: “Thank goodness, that’s just what the world needs — another film about teenage angst,” here are a couple of facts you should know.

First, yes, the film has moments best described as bizarre, but there are far more sequences that are funny and revealing. And while it takes a little time to get used to its rhythms, the movie has a remarkably mature sensibility.

Which brings us to fact number two: The first-time filmmaker — writer, director and star — is Clara Mamet, who herself is a 19-year-old teenager. If the name is familiar, it may be because she is a star of the ABC show “Neighbors.” The show is buried in television’s Bermuda Triangle, Friday nights, and is subversively intelligent, which is reason enough for many to predict its momentary cancellation.

Oh, yes. She is also the daughter of playwright David Mamet and English actress Rebecca Pidgeon, and she is the half-sister of Zosia Mamet, who stars in HBO’s “Girls.”

In “Two-Bit Waltz,” Clara stars as Maude, a dour high school senior who is having a tough week. She’s suspended from school, her best friend moves away, and the boyfriend who recently claimed her virginity is repelled by her use of the “L” word, love. Meanwhile, her bookish father spends all his time under his bed reading and her overly dramatic British mother is pressuring her to pick a college.

Interviewing Mamet is both frustrating (she doesn’t come prepared with long-winded stock answers that make writing an article easy and simply a matter of taking notes), and refreshing (she doesn’t come prepared with long-winded stock answers that make writing an article easy and simply a matter of taking notes).

She spoke to the Forward the day before the Two-Bit Waltz screening about the film’s genesis, early reactions to the movie, and growing up as a Mamet.

Curt Schleier: Would it be incorrect to suggest that the film is autobiographical?

Clara Mamet: It is pretty autobiographical. I would say it’s a heightened sense of reality, but it is based on fact. All the characters are based on real people. When I say a heightened sense of reality, I played up people I know. They’re not always like that.

One of the things I noticed was dialogue that was spoken in what they call Mamet speak — similar to the way it is in your father’s plays. And some of them were funny in a self-referential way they are on “Neighbors.” Did you get script help from your father or Dan Fogelman, Neighbors’ creator?

That’s so interesting you should say Dan Fogelman. But no, not particularly; I didn’t get [writing help] from them. My dad was always supportive, but I tried to keep it separate.

The public relations firm run by your father’s friend and producer is handling publicity. William Macy, a frequent collaborator of your dad’s, stars in the movie. And your mother is played by, well, your mother. You are only 19 years old. Is there a concern that the reaction to the film may be that everything was handed to you?

I hope that’s not the case, but it’s definitely been a fear of mine. It’s a tricky business; everybody’s a critic. But I don’t care as long as I get to keep going.

That raises the question of keep going where? You’re only 19 years old. What exactly do you want to do when you grow up?

I like to make movies; I love to make movies.

In the best-case scenario, what would you like to see happen here at Tribeca?

Well, if everything went perfect, God willing and weather permitting I’d like to sell it [to a distributor] so more people can see it. And to be able to have the opportunity to get a lot more money on the next movie. It’s always about the next one; you always have another one in your pocket.

What’s your next one about?

I can’t tell you. It’s a secret.

Then let’s get back to “Two-Bit Waltz.” What have people been telling you?

They all told me that they like it. I don’t know what they really thought. I’m happy if they just lied.

Well, I think it is the best movie ever made in the history of movies.

(Chuckles) Thank you.

What was it like growing up Mamet?

It was great. Apart from being pretty exceptional, the family is very close and very loving. I’m a truly loved kid and hopefully it will make me a happier adult.

Are you not happier?

I don’t feel like I’m an adult.

But are you happy?

Sure.

What was your Jewish upbringing like?

I was bar mitzvahed, which was hard. I feel it was the hardest thing I ever had to do; harder than making a movie. It was a lot of studying, you know. I wasn’t a perfect Hebrew reader and also they say when you’re reading your Torah portion you’re not supposed to memorize it. It turned out very tricky.

Did you go to Hebrew school?

When I was little I went to a Jewish community day school, for most of elementary school. Then I went to public school and [my parents] made me go to Hebrew school at temple every week, which I hated.

In the movie, Maude seems unmotivated at school and doesn’t want to go to college. Does that describe you. too?

I think it might. I was a good student until I turned 15. Then, all of a sudden, it didn’t matter to me anymore. Isn’t that funny. I don’t want to go to college. I always knew that. But it’s hard. My friends are going and I feel a little left behind.


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