Reviewed at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.
There is a natural analogy to be made between “Ceremony” executive producer Jason Reitman and director Max Winkler, son of Henry, but that’s probably not the one either would want to hear first. It’s a good thing then that Max also happens to share Reitman’s eye and ear as a filmmaker, making his first feature, after honing his skills on Web series like “Clark and Michael” and “Wainy Days,” the promise of greater things. However, their styles shouldn’t be confused as Winkler seems to come more from the Wes Anderson/Whit Stillman school where style is dictated by dialogue, the energy of the scenes derived from the rat-a-tat rhythm of its players who exist in a reality that’s only partially identifiable to our own.
This is immediately evident when we meet Michael Angarano’s Sam Davis, a character who has wandered out from the fake-it-until-you-make-it world that Anderson and Stillman’s creations usually inhabit, an author of children’s books, if we’re being formal, but more appropriately could be called a raconteur since when we first meet him at a public library reading of his latest effort, he has an audience of one: Marshall (Reece Thompson), a friend who he sweet-talks into taking him to crashing the wedding of a woman he once had an affair with (Uma Thurman).
If that last story strand sounds implausible, given Angarano’s boyish looks and Thurman’s statuesque proportions, you’d be surprised since Thurman lets her hair down as Zoe to the point where it seems credible she’d be the type to take in wounded birds and as her fiancé Whit (Lee Pace) describes, she’ll read absolutely any thing and everything, which is how she first got seduced by Sam in the first place. So it is during a weekend retreat on the eastern shoreline that Sam and Marshall find themselves at Zoe and Whit’s wedding party where Sam tries to work his charms once more to pry Zoe away from her soon-to-be significant other, an adventurous TV nature show host who, ironically, can offer her security, but not the adventure that Sam can.
As a departure from the roles Angarano is known for mostly as a wimp, Winkler taps into a wonderfully manic energy that feeds into the party he’s trying to throw. Although it would be nice if the film had a few more laughs, largely relying on the exploits of Zoe’s socially aberrant brother (“Paper Heart”‘s Jake Johnson) and dashed-off non sequiturs in both the script and the production design for chuckles, “Ceremony” begs to be watched with a martini in hand, getting that ineffable quality of a slinky, hazy, celebratory vibe onscreen. This is no easy feat, with cinematographer William Rexer constantly surveying the beach or inside Whit’s palatial home with tracking shots to find where the fun is being had, and the party seems endless. There are three-legged races, cake presentations (it’s Whit’s birthday too), and dancing and boozing in every corner of the house.
“Ceremony” might come off a tad twee in this regard, but Winkler’s direction is so assured and his cast of characters so well-defined that what the film lacks in gut-busting humor or overcompensates for with quirk, it makes up for with its polish that makes it go down smooth, even as one complication piles on top of another. Winkler isn’t out to reinvent the wheel here, but he spins it fast and keeps it on track, delivering a pleasant diversion that’s refreshingly free of cynicism, full of vibrancy and ultimately, a curiosity about what he will do next.
“Ceremony” does not yet have U.S. distribution.