Often times my favorite movies come from a very personal place. Something that while watching you can connect with because it feels natural. The film and its characters do not come across as a charade, as some put-on or laced with fantasy but instead something that is very close to a writer/director's chest and utterly authentic. "Ceremony" is one of those movies. It is undeniably charming and repeatedly hysterical. It is a film that grabbed my attention from the onset with its abrupt start and never let go. A good portion of that rests in the hands of the versed cast but the real meat of it comes from the incredibly talented first time writer and director Max Winkler. A man who now has my undivided attention for any forthcoming future endeavors.
Max Winkler shows his wit and ability with a very simple story but in commanding fashion. "Ceremony" is awkward and contagious. It throws the audience into the adventure of Sam (Michael Angarano) a misguided twenty-something who is unsure of his place in the world but is sure that he loves Zoe (Uma Thurman) and will do whatever it takes to get her back. The dialogue Max Winkler penned for Sam is quick paced and full of wordplay. Sam talks a mile a minute and once the audience catches up with his slick tongue and persona they will find themselves swallowed up by all the wisecracks and charisma. Sam isn't the only character Max Winkler gives honest and rousing depth, infact a solid majority of the characters are brilliantly crafted not to mention performed.
I'll get to performances in a bit but first I need to talk more about Winkler's impressive wide range of characters. Sam's friend Marshall (Reece Thompson) is a wonderful counter to Sam. The two of them are like peanut butter and jelly. They just seem to go together perfectly while being two totally different substances. Both characters are complex and certainly peculiar, but they help to fill the offbeat comedy with tons of comical banter. The next character worth elaborating on is Whit (Lee Pace). Whit is who Sam is up against. He is the man Zoe intends to marry. Whit is written to be the arrogant ass you want to hate but that is just the character's first layer. As the film progresses you see how Winkler added more to his persona than initially expected. We see depth that makes the audience question their original perception of Whit. It is this kind of character development that really helps to suck you further into "Ceremony." Almost every character has some developed arc that doesn't seem expected or forced and ends up being hexing. A final character that must be mentioned is Teddy (Jake M. Johnson). Teddy is Zoe's big brother and like all the best big brothers should be, he's got a lesson to teach. While all of Max Winkler's main characters come across personal, Teddy feels like the one that influenced Max as a director and writer the most.
It is hard to imagine what "Ceremony" would be like without Michael Angarano because this 23 year old actor picks up the weight of Max Winkler's emotional and comical story and places it solely upon his shoulders. I am not trying to undercut any of the other talented actors in Ceremony, I just mean more to say that without Angarano, I'm not sure the same level of charisma would be present. Simply put, Michael Angarano elevates the rest of the cast. Angarano is kinetic and inspired. You can feel every emotion the young talent is going through. Some could say I'm exaggerating but Michael Angarano's performance as Sam Davis is unforgettable. This isn't the first time Angarano has impressed me but this is the first time I found myself blown away by his performance.
Reece Thompson who previously showed off his skills in "Rocket Science," executes once again as Sam's friend Marshall. Thompson plays off Michael Angarano beat for beat. This goes back to the outstanding characterization Max Winkler penned, Thompson like Angarano took the well crafted character and gave him vibrant life. My brain is telling me all actors give characters life, but the performances here by Michael Angarano and Reece Thompson deserve to be exalted. To a lesser degree Lee Pace and Jake M. Johnson also deserve signal for their memorable performances. Across the board the cast of "Ceremony" is first rate and pure. Nothing feels manufactured or rehearsed.
"Ceremony" is Max Winkler's first full length movie but you couldn't tell by what you see on screen. Winkler does a solid job with the number of set-ups and locations the film quickly moves through. Most of the comedy-drama takes place on the beach and Winkler does a impressive job matching everything up as if it were all shot on the same day. With this talk about set-ups and stitching things together, praise too must be awarded to cinematographer William Rexer who captured Winkler's story in a gorgeous but difficult setting to film as well as editor Joe Landauer for piecing it all together. The entire team really put their best foot forward with this simple indie comedy that I can't get enough of.
Schofizzy's Score: 9.7/10