In Max Winkler’s terrifically
funny, and at times subversively sad buddy comedy, Ceremony, two old
friends, Sam and Marshall, having not spoken to each other for over a year and
having reached that awkward age: their mid-twenties, are desperate to escape
the vapid if comfy cocoon of life on Long Island. Sam is a barely surviving
children’s book author and Marshall has been living zombie like with his
parents following a traumatic mugging. This is a make or break moment for two
resolutely hetero boy/men who imagine themselves fitting the template of Scott
Fitzgerald’s tortured romantics.
In act one Sam manipulates his
still wounded, indecisive best friend to drive him to a swanky part of the
Island where they crash Sam’s one-time girlfriend’s wedding to a posh,
showboating, British reality filmmaker.
Winkler – shades of Noah Baumbach’s
self-absorbed, angst-ridden characters – plants the core love story firmly
between Sam and Marshall. When all else fails, and it will, they’ll have each
other, or will they?
The boys are sunning themselves by
the pool of their fleabag motel when Sam talks Marshall into infiltrating a
party visible just down the
“Just sitting here by the pool with
you is probably the most exciting thing I’ve done all year.”
“There’s a very interesting thing
going on down the beach over there.”
“They’re all old people!”
“Exactly, Marshall, they’ll love
“I don’t know if I’m ready to dive
into a stressful social situation right now.”
“Marshall, this is your coming out
“I can’t go over there in my swim
trunks, now can I?”
“You brought a suit didn’t you?”
“I’d have to sticky-roll it.”
“Just pretend to fit in. It’ll be
like when we
took steam showers with all those old guys. We’ll sneak in,
and then we can peacock ourselves around. Feel free to make something up about yourself,
like a job or something.”
Instead of making a cool entrance
the boys channel their inner misfit in a setting cradled between the anxious
debutants of Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan and the vicious old money
crowd making life miserable for the angry boy protagonist of Igby Goes Down.
Winkler isn’t aiming for deep social
satire or upper crust bashing. While the “adult” characters -- Uma Thurman is
saucy fine as an aging rich girl who’s ready to settle down with her preening
British boyfriend (an amusingly swaggering Lee Pace) -- tolerate the boys’
antics as a hiccup in the grander scheme of things, Michael Angarano as Sam and
Reece Daniel Thompson as Marshall slyly steal the spotlight with their
Thompson, who won kudos for his
plucky stuttering boy debater, Hal Heffner, in the under- appreciated Rocket
Science, here reinvents that smarter than he first appears but still
emotionally stunted introvert that was the fate of Andrew McCarthy’s loners in
the 80’s John Hughes’ “Brat Pack” comedies. Blessed with McCarthy’s almost
Kennedy family handsomeness, Thompson can subtly undercut his physical appeal
with Keaton worthy pratfalls -- Buster or Diane -- that allow him to shift
seamlessly between apprentice adult and adolescent basket case. Thompson also
wields a comic diction that augments the impact of his self-deprecating asides.
This allows Angarano’s affectionate allusions to the depth of their
relationship – “I love you my little prince” – to land softly, although we are
taken aback when during their drug addled state – lying head to toe in the
attic bedroom of a posh mansion – Sam bursts out with a improbably generous
compliment about Marshall’s penis.
Ultimately in his first trip to the
feature plate Max Winkler navigates that fine, often imprecise line between
melancholia and comedy – his stellar cast is given ample room to show who the
characters believe themselves to be as well as sadly who they are.
Max, son of Henry (Happy Days)
Winkler confesses that while he inherited his dad’s comedy gene, the acting one
alluded him. For his debut feature he chose a social strata far removed from
his native LA.
“I grew up where people made their
money in the 70’s and 80’s but I’ve always been obsessed with this old money
from the East Coast aristocracy. The books I’ve loved: Fitzgerald, Salinger,
Cheever -- I love the aesthetic of that, the repression and the wardrobe. I
grew up, where while shopping for a ripped up vintage T-shirt, you can tell
friends about your therapy.”
Lamble: Michael Angarano and Reece Daniel Thompson
have perfect screen chemistry.
Winkler: When the DVD comes out I’ll be able to put
their auditions on as an extra. Michael swallowed his gum in the middle of one
of his patented tirades and Reece had to pat his back -- that was the movie to
As I was prepping the movie Michael
and Reece had “friend” dates: they’d sleepover – they became best friends so
quickly. They shared twin sized beds in the house where we were shooting.
Lamble: Their relationship is all but homosexual in
that it has everything but the sex – the affection, the intimacy…
Winkler: …even comments on each other’s penises. It’s
a very non-gay, gay relationship. They really love each other in a real way and
I have that relationship with my male friends. There’s a real love that comes
from knowing somebody’s secrets. The movie begins and ends as romance between
these guys. There’s that penultimate scene at the end in the car where Michael
– feeling how badly Sam has treated Marshall – actually starts to cry.
Lamble: Reece has a beautifully comic syntax: the way
he uses the word cruel – he’s a handsome guy but that doesn’t keep him from
Winkler: There’s something about Reece that’s inherently
funny: he’s got great body language. He’s got weird diction and syntax, which
caused me to put certain words in the movie because they were so funny.
We lucky to have Michael because
he’s got this innocent face – you immediately know that he’s full if shit –
this gives him a lot of flexibility to work out some physical comic
riffs. Initially Michael was trying to play the character Jewish, like
me, but Michael actually is Staten Island Italian – so I had to tell him at
times, “less Joe Pesci,” when he would be yelling it would feel like we were in
GoodFellas, rather than Woody Allen.