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by brianorndorf

"Love means never having to establish characters"
1 stars

“Ceremony” is a film that thrives on chaos, refusing to establish characters or situations before it tosses the viewer into the thick of discomfort. The disorientation is irksome, but so is much of this exhausting picture, which seems to value secrecy as a way of initiating interest, yet doesn’t offer anything worth the time invested, issuing derivative characters and tuneless situations of longing coated with an ineffective layer of crooked whimsy that often acts like salt in the wound.

An author of violent, unsuccessful children’s books, Sam (Michael Angarano) is eager to exit Brooklyn and make his way to an upstate resort, bringing along estranged pal Marshall (Reece Thompson) for support. While Marshall expects a weekend retreat of reconnection, Sam is driven to crash the wedding weekend of former flame Zoe (Uma Thurman), who’s about to marry pompous documentary filmmaker Whit (Lee Pace, doing a poor impression of Russell Brand). Unexpectedly accepted into the weekend plans, Sam uses the opportunity to win Zoe back, hoping the fill the hole in his soul, while Marshall endures humiliations and injury, with the true purpose of the trip slowly dawning on the simple man.

“Ceremony” marks the feature-length filmmaking debut for writer/director Max Winkler, perhaps best known as the son of television legend Henry Winkler. It seems the younger Winkler has developed a taste for the work of Wes Anderson, cribbing the tone and look of the celebrated director to help build his own arch ode to the disappointment of love and the fallacy of maturation. Not that such pronounced inspiration is an unwelcome development, but Winkler takes more than he gives, commencing “Ceremony” with a severe case of déjà vu, which eventually dissipates, exposing tedium.

Winkler doesn’t have to dream up a community of likable characters, but he does have an obligation to manufacture interesting ones. “Ceremony” is fixated on overly agitated people with mental disorders, which, to the filmmaker, equates to a richly idiosyncratic bunch of personalities set loose in a chaotic setting of beachside partying, introducing drink, drugs, and Zoe’s suicidal brother (Jake M. Johnson) to help with the loose atmosphere. The festivities arrive after the film’s opening act, where Sam and Marshall sprint through affected behaviors and dramatic confusion without anything resembling an introduction, leaving viewers in the company of creeps without a purpose. Winkler believes in the art of the reveal, but he takes far too long to solidify the conflict, burying potentially intriguing tension by keeping his distance, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

There’s nothing about Sam that elicits interest, with Angarano working the surface details of the character (e.g. a propensity for lying) while waiting for Winkler to reel him in. There should be an intense feeling of discomfort in the air as Sam and Zoe discuss future plans and current complications, yet there’s no chemistry there -- Thurman does her best to portray agitation, but her motivation doesn’t carry past her frown. Winkler arranges a series of ‘70’s rock tunes and party activities to sustain interest, but without a gravitational force of emotion generating concern for the lead characters, who cares about any of this?

The final act suggests some form of catharsis in play, perhaps even a weird conclusion of revenge, but “Ceremony” doesn’t push hard enough to make the purge stick. It’s a long weekend with these self-involved people, with Winkler revealing his inexperience in full, constructing a painfully unfocused ode to desire and failure. Well, at least the feeling of failure is successfully conveyed.

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originally posted: 06/17/11 23:26:11
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/09/11 joe smaltz Waste of film 1 stars
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  DVD: 21-Jun-2011


  DVD: 21-Jun-2011

Directed by
  Max Winkler

Written by
  Max Winkler

  Michael Angarano
  Jesse Eisenberg
  Uma Thurman
  Rebecca Mader

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