Film Review: “Ceremony”

by Jason LeRoy on April 22, 2011

Michael Angarano and Reece Thompson in CEREMONY. © 2011 Magnolia Pictures

starring: Michael Angarano, Uma Thurman, Reece Thompson, Lee Pace, Rebecca Mader, Jake M. Johnson

written and directed by: Max Winkler

MPAA: Rated R for some language, sexual references and drug use.

Ceremony, the feature writing/directing debut of Max Winkler (son of Henry), is an awkward but heartfelt little indie about a pretentious young man’s coming-of-age. That young man is Sam (Michael Angarano), a Manhattan-dwelling 23-year-old aspiring children’s book author (which is really going around these days; see also Greta Gerwig in Arthur) who seems to be styling himself after Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless. He is intense and affected, completely unaware that at 23, he might be a bit too close to his own childhood to be writing books for children.

As the film begins, Sam and his fragile best friend, Marshall (Reece Thompson), are driving upstate for what Sam claims is just a friendly weekend trip. But it turns out this is just a ruse to crash the wedding of Zoe (Uma Thurman), an older woman with whom Sam has been having an affair. Zoe is marrying Whit (Lee Pace), the hilariously self-important host of a famous nature show who is followed by his own personal camera crew wherever he goes. Zoe and Whit are having one of those weekend getaway weddings where they invite all their friends to stay in a big house and celebrate with them. I’d suggest that this kind of thing only happens in movies if I hadn’t attended one myself, albeit in West Virginia rather than upstate New York. It was also in a sex dungeon, but that’s another story for another time.

Zoe is startled to see Sam and eager to send him away, but he ingratiates himself with Whit and gets an invite to stay for the weekend. He remains stubbornly oblique about his motives for being there, refusing to admit the truth to an increasingly nervous Marshall. Sam and Zoe spend the weekend awkwardly circling each other through a succession of dinners and outdoor activities and parties (and, of course, the obligatory “awkward wedding toasts” sequence, which GOD HELP ME if I ever have to fucking sit through another one of these), as Sam repeatedly attempts convincing Zoe to cancel the wedding and run off with him.

The resulting film comes off like Rachel Getting Married as directed by Wes Anderson: less gut-wrenching, more playful and twee, but with just as much awkwardness. Angarano and Thurman (is Tarantino the only filmmaker who knows how to harness this woman’s gifts?) are upstaged by some truly outstanding supporting performances. Reece Thompson, who had his breakout role opposite Anna Kendrick in Rocket Science, is remarkable as the jittery and wounded Marshall. There is a distinct homoerotic undertone to the boys’ friendship, and Thompson’s unguarded affection is striking. As for Lee Pace, he steals the entire film with his deliciously comedic and pompous turn as Whit. I’d nearly recommend the entire film just so you can see his peacockian antics.

Ceremony doesn’t exactly escape the trappings of a writer/director’s debut film, and there are few contemporary film clichés more punishing than awkward weekend weddings. But Winkler lets his story unfold with a pleasing degree of mystery and showmanship, highlighted by excellent supporting performances.

Ceremony opens today at the Lumiere Theatre.

Read Also:

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: