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Dustin Putman

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Ceremony  (2011)
2 Stars
Directed by Max Winkler.
Cast: Michael Angarano, Uma Thurman, Reece Thompson, Lee Pace, Jake M. Johnson, Rebecca Mader, Brooke Bloom, Harper Dill.
2011 – 89 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for language, sexual references and drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 7, 2011.
The feature writing-directing debut of Max Winkler (son of Henry), "Ceremony" is innocuous but underwritten. An indie romantic comedy-drama that provides the occasional snicker and a low-key level of emotional urgency, the picture nonetheless comes up lacking in both development and charisma. In what might be his first adult role, Michael Angarano (2009's "Gentlemen Broncos") makes for a disarming lead as 23-year-old Sam R. Davis, a struggling children's author and illustrator who reconnects with his sheltered, recently estranged friend Marshall (Reece Thompson) for a getaway to Long Island. Sam has an ulterior motive, though; the older woman he is in love with, Zoe (Uma Thurman), is due to be married at the end of a fancy wedding weekend to documentary filmmaker Whit Coutell (Lee Pace). This is Sam's last-ditch effort to convince her she's making a terrible mistake.

Were there more texture and care brought to the relationship between Sam and Zoe—a pressing sense, if you will, that they belong together—"Ceremony" might have worked. Unfortunately, despite a gleam in her eye now and again that gives away a possible reciprocal feeling, Zoe spends the bulk of the movie just trying to put up with Sam when he and Marshall are invited to stay at Whit's family estate. The viewer is kept intentionally in the dark for a long time about how these two people know each other, but when the reveal comes, it's not surprising or all that telling about the details of their past together. That little is learned about Zoe and most of her scenes hinge on how she reacts to Sam's behavior doesn't really help to build a full sense of who she is and what she wants. And, if Sam and Zoe only have fleeting chemistry, she has even less with husband-to-be Whit, a nice enough but pretentious guy who is more plot construct than dimensional person.

"Ceremony" makes impeccable use of the song "This Woman's Work" by Kate Bush, and a segment midway through where Zoe holes up in Sam's room for the night at least gives a believable hint to their history. Alas, there's not enough of this, leaving Michael Angarano and a fresh-faced but weakly utilized Uma Thurman (2008's "The Life Before Her Eyes") going through the motions of a script that doesn't give them enough weight to work with. The open-ended conclusion also comes up short, not giving the viewer enough to go on either way. Director Max Winkler seems to suggest that maybe Sam and Zoe are meant for each other, but will always be separated by their 15-year age gap and the different places they're at in their lives. That is well and good, but the way it is handled renders the film rather meandering and insignificant, not much more than a diverting, finally disappointing afterthought.
© 2011 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman