Theatrical Review: CEREMONY

Sean Hunter

by: Sean Hunter
April 8th, 2011

Rating: 4.5/5

Writer/Director: Max Winkler
Cast: Michael Angarano, Uma Thurman, Reece Thompson
Studio: Magnolia Pictures

What do you get when you mix baby Ryan Gosling with Wes Anderson and a pinch of Noah Baumbach? Well, other than the world's greatest all-male orgy, you'd probably end up with something close to CEREMONY. CEREMONY is Max Winkler's first feature-length film (having previously helmed the critically acclaimed short THE KING OF CENTRAL PARK). It's immediately obvious that Winkler comes from the school of the hipster-cinema; though he absconds from the typical negative associations related to it, leaving behind only the rich colors and dialogue to operate with.

CEREMONY follows the story of Sam Davis (Michael Angarano) and Marshall Schmidt (Reece Thompson), two best friends who have grown apart from each other. In an effort to rekindle their friendship, Sam takes Marshall on a weekend trip to a Native American hotel. Once they reach their destination, however, their lives collide with Whit (Lee Pace) and Zoe (Uma Thurman), who are having a celebratory weekend with friends and family. The celebration centers around Whit and Zoe's impending wedding, but not all is as it seems. As the multiple relationships and mysteries unwind, CEREMONY reveals itself as a film about love in its many forms.

The "baby Ryan Gosling" comes into play through Michael Angarano, who delivers a performance outside of his typical PG-rated kindness. There are layers to the character of Sam not usually found in Angarano's acting and thank goodness Winkler uncovered it. Angarano is an incredibly charming and captivating screen presence, if he chooses to continue this trend I wouldn't be surprised to see him with a career similar to Gosling or Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

It's always exciting to see a new talent emerge, and CEREMONY is really full of that excitement. Jake M. Johnson (who plays Zoe's profoundly alcoholic brother) brings solid comedic release without feeling unnecessary, and Reece Thompson plays a great foil to Angarano's character. Of course, Uma Thurman is fantastic as always.

CEREMONY isn't just about the performances, however, there's some fantastic directing happening here. Winkler will be an interesting filmmaker to watch in the coming years, as he's taking a lot of styles and made them work in his own arena. The bold clothing choices, the eclectic kitsch interiors, and the wide landscapes make for a great backdrop to the story. CEREMONY is a delight to watch not only for the solid performances, but because it's the unfolding of an emerging director's style and vision. Perhaps at times CEREMONY is too derivative of the directors that clearly have influenced Winkler, but it's obvious he's drawing inspiration from the right people.

Ultimately, CEREMONY is a surprising first outing from a relatively unseasoned director. The performances are peppered with the usual quirks that make up a Baumbach or Anderson film, but are elevated by new talent eager to be discovered. If the corduroy suits and Ray Ban sunglasses don't tip you off in the first moments of the film, CEREMONY is distinctly in romance with the hipster mentality. Whereas sometimes this ideology can obstruct good stories and filmmaking, CEREMONY uses just enough lo-fi to separate itself from the pack. Additionally, I have been inspired to grow a mustache, thanks to Angarano's wicked lip carpet from the early moments of the film.

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