Saturday, December 3, 2011

Max Winkler's "Ceremony"

by Pa Rock
Movie Aficionado

Yesterday as I stopped in at the "Shopette" on Camp Foster for my morning fix of iced tea, I took a few minutes to peruse the shelves of movies for sale - always a much better selection than the violence and drivel that seems to constantly be playing at our local military theatres.  As I was about to pay for my drink and head home, one movie caught my attention.  It was a romantic comedy entitled Ceremony, and I was drawn to it because of film's leading man, Michael Angarano.

Okay, so the name "Michael Angarano" probably isn't readily recognizable to many movie-goers - yet - but it was a name that I know.  Michael Angarano happens to also be the male lead in an upcoming movie, The Brass Teapot, which was written (both the story and the screenplay) by my youngest son, Tim - and Tim, who was on the set for much of the filming, knows Mr. Angarano and is familiar with his acting ability.  I bought Ceremony and took it home so that I could take the talent-measure of this young man as well.

It turns out that my money was wisely invested.

Ceremony is a movie by twenty-somethings aimed primarily at the demographic of twenty-somethings, but this old sixty-something also found it easy to enjoy.  Max Winkler, a sharp young filmmaker who is on the sunny side of thirty, wrote and directed the movie, and he also took on the responsibility of casting the major roles - making Ceremony a "Max Winkler film" in the true sense of the phrase.  It was Winkler's writing and directing debut for a feature-length movie, a feat which he pulled off flawlessly.

Michael Angarano stars as Sam Davis, a young man who writes unsuccessful children's books that seem to borrow from his own misfortunes.  As the movie opens, Sam has just learned that the woman he loves, Zoe (Uma Thurman), is about to marry someone else, and he sets off on a quest with his best friend Marshall (Reece Thompson) to crash the wedding party and bring Zoe to her senses through his boyish charm and manly perseverance.

Sam, however, neglects to tell Marshall the real purpose of their road trip - a trip that is taking place in Marshall's car and being financed primarily through Marshall's largess.   Marshall, an emotionally wounded and frail character, believes that they have hit the road to work on rebuilding their friendship which has been neglected of late.

(A gay subtext runs through the story - enough innuendo to keep it interesting, but not enough to derail Sam's relentless pursuit of Zoe.)

Sam and Marshall eventually make it into the wedding party and are even invited to stay in the large beach house where the nuptials are to be held.  Their benefactor in this process in the prospective groom, Whit (Lee Pace), a polished and pretentious documentary filmmaker who is sure enough of himself to know that Sam's quest for Zoe's heart will be futile.  The self-confident and narcissistic Whit has one of the best lines in the movie as he and the male wedding guests are returning from a night of camping in the woods.  As they pass in front of the rain-soaked picture window that frames a tear-soaked Sam, Whit tells his attendant film crew:  "Get a picture of that.  He's the saddest man in the world."  It was a beautiful shot.

Uma Thurman is perfect as Zoe, the bride-to-be who enjoys (at times) the daring mischief of Sam, but also understands her own need for the security of Whit.  An unsuccessful children's author barely out of adolescence would not be her ticket to a comfortable ever-after.  The choice of Uma Thurman for the role of Zoe was the director's nod to classy Hollywood leading ladies, and it was perfect casting.

Reece Thompson, Sam's emotionally and financially abused sidekick, Marshall, does a fine job of growing and separating himself from Sam's sprawling personality during the stay at the beach house.  He comes across as perhaps one of the most likable, though constantly victimized, characters in the wedding party.  At one point he is relegated to spending the night sleeping in a bathtub of water so that Sam can have their bed for his carnal pleasures.  And it is Marshall who rushes into the ocean to save the life of Zoe's younger brother, Teddy, a hapless and lovable drunk played by Jake M. Johnson, yet Marshall's act of heroism is largely ignored by one-and-all during the ensuing commotion over Teddy following his near-drowning.   Marshall and his feelings are easy to overlook.

But it is the physical and comedic energy of Michael Angarano which drives Ceremony.  The actor appears to be a full head shorter than the leading lady, bringing to mind Dustin Hoffman and Michael J. Fox of earlier generations.  But Angarano, who turned twenty-four yesterday (December 3rd), is funnier than Hoffman and presents on screen as more natural and believable than Fox.  He is a dynamo throughout the movie.  Michael Angarano's list of credits is growing rapidly, and soon he will be a household name.

Ceremony is a great movie.  It was written for a young audience, but  sophisticated old farts will find it funny as well.

And I do like the concept of screenwriters directing their own work!

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