Director: Max Winkler
Starring: Uma Thurman, Michael Angarano, Lee Pace, Reece Thompson, Jake Johnson
Weddings bring together disparate groups of people — including many who are close but not always friends, or necessarily apt to play nicely with others — and so consequently they are an almost irresistibly rich setting for films. One of the latest such offerings arrives in the form of Ceremony, which is loosely of a piece with fellow tales of twentysomething ennui and/or upended nuptials like Garden State, The Last Kiss and Rachel Getting Married, except processed through a decidedly more manic, less ruminative filter. The result is something different, a bit offbeat and certainly not unpleasant, but ultimately also not that memorably insightful or successful.
The feature film debut of writer-director Max Winkler, son of Henry “The Fonz” Winkler, Ceremony centers on 23-year-old Sam Davis (Michael Angarano), a talkative, full-of-himself, would-be children’s book author who corrals an awestruck friend whom he’s been ignoring for over a year, Marshall Schmidt (Reece Thompson), and sets off on what he pitches as a weekend bonding trip. Unbeknownst to Marshall, however, Sam’s real intentions concern Zoe (Uma Thurman), an older woman and ex-fling with whom he is infatuated. Zoe is set to be married to Whit Coutell (Lee Pace), an equally self-satisfied documentary filmmaker and philanthropist, but Sam has loosely formed plans (dreams, really) of disrupting their wedding and sweeping Zoe off her feet. Lots of talking, much more than hijinks, ensues.
Large chunks of Ceremony‘s dialogue, especially between Sam and Marshall, are literate if briskly paced, as if the actors had been instructed to watch a bunch of The West Wing, Brick or Assassination of a High School President (another film in which Thompson appeared, coincidentally), and told that their chatty asides and interjections were as much about keeping pace with some hidden meter as the actual content of the words themselves. Angarano and Thompson share a nice rapport, but the substantial and almost unnerving degree to which Marshall lionizes Sam is never really fully, convincingly explained.
Sam’s tilting at windmills (he’s less a wild romantic than just seemingly stuck on Zoe) provides the chance for Ceremony to till much ground in the difference between young, entirely hormone-charged love, and the (slightly) more reasoned and mature love of later adulthood. Unfortunately, Zoe is from the get-go too obviously unhappy in her relationship with Whit, and he too above romantic rivalry as well, so there is no real dramatic tension in what could otherwise be either a quite interesting exploration of a woman in love with neither man in her life, or, alternately, a more conventional love triangle dust-up.
In filtering much of the weekend’s events through Sam’s relationship with Marshall (even though Thompson gives a delightful turn), Winkler misses the chance to devote more individual screen time to Zoe, and establish her as a complementary parallel character to Sam and his scattershot passion, rather than just a fuzzy supporting player in his story. Somewhat puzzlingly, Winkler also never gets to the root of their relationship, and how much of a gulf might exist between their respective perceptions of it. Nor does he even seem overly concerned with doing so.
If there’s a saving grace here, it’s Angarano. He’s been around forever as a child actor, appearing in movies like Sky High and Lords of Dogtown, among others, but in Ceremony he gives an eye-opening adult performance — something with personality and measurable depth, but without a lot of artifice. This, and plenty of other color around the movie’s edges — including an amusing turn by Jake Johnson as Zoe’s drunken brother, Teddy — give Ceremony a certain level of fitful engagement. Overall, though, the film too often dawdles and dissembles when it should be digging a lot deeper; Winkler seems to have an aversion or disdain for honest catharsis. Maybe that’s a function of his own relative youth, and the work of a more aged Winkler will yield more interesting results. (NOTE: In addition to playing in theaters, Ceremony is now available on iTunes, Amazon, on-demand, PlayStation Network and Xbox Marketplace.)
Written by: Brent Simon