Movie Review: CEREMONY Deserves An Audience

Max Winkler asserts himself as an up and comer to keep on your radar. He delights with his debut feature film and delivers a vibrant, high note hitting, coming of age tale.

Winkler’s name probably strikes a chord for a variety of reasons: most obvious being that he’s the son of Henry Winkler, who you might recall as Arthur “Fonzie”/”The Fonz” Fonzarelli from the sitcom, Happy Days (none of you will remember that his father was also the director behind Cop and a Half until this very moment).

Some might also recall Max for his work on the note-worthy, ten episode online comedy series for CBS Internet by the name of Clark and Michael (2006) starring Clark Duke and Michael Cera. I hadn’t yet watched an episode of the latter, but they’re highly recommended, available on YouTube, and boast cameos by veteran sketch comedians like Joe Lo Truglio (The State, Party Down).

I’ll admit, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into with this offering. Despite the positive buzz surrounding its successful film festival circuit run, I couldn’t ignore the fact that it just felt and looked like something I’d seen before. It’s quite difficult at times to shield yourself from that waiting in line chatter at a festival, and after a few days at SXSW trapped in the hot breath of strangers uttering the name “Wes Anderson” followed by “Noah Baumbach”, I wasn’t exactly in a hurry to make room for a viewing. I do genuinely enjoy the aforementioned directors’ work, so don’t get me wrong. I was just more interested in something more fresh.

Consider a curve ball thrown because a month later I watched it on a whim and not fifteen minutes into the film I found that it stood on its own modestly, out from under the shadows of lazy comparisons and in its own soft light.

The story unfolds with an introduction to Sam Davis, a twenty something woebegone children’s book artist/illustrator played by budding young actor, Michael Angarano (Snow Angels). He’s a slice of all of us post devouring The Catcher In the Rye, echoing our cringe-worthy quarter life crisis. I say slice because not many of us were so impatient that we had to go ahead and have ours at age 22. It may come as no surprise that Sam’s not excelling in his trade, but we do know he has at least one fan.

Enter Marshall, played by Reece Thompson (Rocket Science), who doubles as a regretfully ardent sidekick and Sam’s conscience. Their sort of lapdog vs. master relationship can be summed up in a scene that speaks volumes straight away. Sam’s best friend is the kind of guy that will lean in, no questions asked, when he asks if his breath smells dreadful. The thing is, if you have to ask it probably does (you solipsistic ninny). Marshall is a bit of a pushover though, and might even hold your stench in like a bong rip if you said the magic word.

Under foggy pretenses, Sam convinces Marshall to take a beach trip with him to Long Island where they’ll spend the weekend together rekindling their fading friendship. Alongside Marshall, we’re fed very few bread crumb clues until they arrive at their destination. Soon ulterior motives are revealed and we meet the real reason behind the spur of the moment excursion. She’s about one breathtaking blondish head taller than both boys with an engagement ring sparkling snug on her finger.

We meet Zoe, effortlessly played by Uma Thurman, across the beach where a celebration chock-full of family and friends is in full swing. Time slows, eyes lock, and her facial expression alone all but reveals their shady history. Her betrothed, played by Lee Pace (Wonderfalls, The Fall), isn’t far behind as Whit, an over the top courtly director of nature documentaries. The party is an advantageous environment for Sam because her initial response could only bounce a hair or two politely beyond stoicism. Naturally, Sam poses little threat to a man of Whit’s stature and the two boys are invited to shack up and join in the weekend festivities. I’ll refrain from elaborating on how it unravels from there, but it most certainly does.

At the close, I was impressed by the grace and tenor with which Max handled the characters, each one, all sides developed with sincere thought and enough depth to allow the audience to embrace even their unlovely sides. Point being, my scribbled down notes regarding my utmost desire to slap Sam Davis in the kisser were quickly followed by a backpedaling urge to hug the kid because he dances between the hate him/love him extremes so admirably.

I hope that in the future, even when the story he’s sharing isn’t so personally driven, he’s able to create the same, relishable watching experience.

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