Friday, April 22, 2011

Pretty Simple And Derivative: Ceremony

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

"Ceremony," from writer and director Max Winkler, (yes), is a low key romantic comedy that owes a lot of dept to the works of Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. Indeed, impression may be the sincerest form of flattery, but when was the last time you decided to see an impressionist instead of the real thing?

The film follows the slight Sam, (Michael Angarano), a struggling young writer with a bad mustache, a lot of condescending attitude, and an obsession with an older woman he shared a brief fling with. He decides to crash this former flame's weekend wedding, and drags along a friend suffering from some post-traumatic stress, promising him some male bonding, when in reality, he just needs someone to give him a ride.

Sam comes off as an aging version of "Rushmore"'s Max Fisher, though I don't think Sam has an accomplishment as historic as saving Latin under his belt. No, Sam's tunnel-visioned eye is firmly planted on the feminine prize: Uma Thurman's Zoe. And while she may still have some feelings for Sam, she's set on marrying her documentary filmmaker fiance (played, with a suitable amount of sleazy egotism, by Lee Pace).

So, over the course of the wedding weekend, at a suitably bohemian beachfront house filled with guests, (see: Baumbach's "Margot at the Wedding"), Sam and Zoe come to terms with the meaning of their romance and their futures. (It's with the houseful of background players that I'd wished some Robert Altman had also been an influence, as these guests are, for the most part, nothing more than background furniture, and some moments of eavesdropping on these minor characters could have opened the movie up a bit.)

Ultimately, the relationship between Sam and Zoe doesn't really make a lot of sense. I guess we are supposed to understand why Sam is so smitten with Uma Thurman's Zoe because, well, she's played by Uma Thurman. But aside from that, there's nothing particularly magical about her. In turn, Zoe's continued tolerance, and romance, with Sam is confusing. There are references to parents dead, and children's books written, so perhaps this affair between an Amazonian woman and young man ironically referred to as "Big Sam" is supposed to come off as a kind of fairy tale. Unfortunately, like many fairy tales, it's pretty simple, and derivative of many previously told tales.

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