Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Kids Love Uma Thurman: Ceremony

Prepare to feel really old—Uma Thurman is playing a “Mrs. Robinson” character. While not yet middle aged, she is considerably more mature than her would-be suitor. She is not exactly trying to seduce him either. She is too busy trying to get married in writer-director Max Winkler’s Ceremony (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Just because Sam Davis writes wish-fulfillment children’s book to make his meager living does not necessarily mean he is a mild state of arrested development. That just happens to be true in his case as well. During a rough patch with her fiancé, the tall thirty-something Zoe moved back to the City and had a fling with Davis. After she returned her soon-to-be husband’s Long Island estate, Davis started writing to her. She made the huge mistake of replying. Now Davis has crashed her matrimonial weekend festivities with his even more socially inept friend Marshall Schmidt in tow, hoping he can convince her to run off with him, like Katharine Ross in The Graduate.

Zoe’s fiancé, the boorish nature documentarian Whit Coutell is contemptuously dismissive of Davis (as are we all). Supremely self-confident, he believes his wealth trumps anything his nebbish rival might have to offer. Why she would consider either of these princes is hard to fathom. Yes, the film well establishes her deeply rooted need for security, but she is an attractive woman. Surely, she could find herself a doting sugar-daddy instead of the impossibly arrogant Coutell. They are in the Hamptons, after all.

Frankly, this cuts to core of Ceremony’s problems. Individually, there are several well turned scenes and its conclusion arguably represents the mature reciprocal of The Graduate’s ambiguous impulsiveness. However, neither side of Zoe’s love triangle are even remotely convincing. Michael Angarano is just too cringingly dweeby to be credible. Likewise, Lee Pace is ridiculously over the top as the blustery Coutell. Perhaps the strongest turn comes from Jake Johnson, finding humor and pathos in her profoundly troubled brother Teddy. In fact, Thurman and Johnson’s scenes conveying their brother-sister relationship are among the film’s strongest.

Indeed, Ceremony’s chemistry is so far off, it should be considered a victory that Winkler was able to periodically pull it together here and there. He also keeps the film moving along at a healthy pace, which is certainly appreciated. However, the film is fundamentally undermined by its casting. Another shrug-inducing indie, Ceremony opens this Friday (4/8) in New York at the Village East.