A perpetual adolescent stumbling through his twenties with inflated self-confidence, Sam (Michael Angarano) clings to the naive notions of love and romance that he immortalizes in a series of unpublished children’s books. With his sensitive, sycophantic best friend Marshall (Reece Thompson) in tow, he heads to the Hamptons to make a last-ditch effort to woo the object of his infatuation.
Thirty-something publisher Zoe (Uma Thurman) is about to marry Whit (Lee Pace), a self-important documentary filmmaker who’s an outrageous cross between Jacques Costeau and “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin. Sam refuses to accept that anyone else could be the love of Zoe’s life and, dressed to the nines in a crumpled burgundy suit, crashes Zoe and Whit’s wedding reception, determined to prove his point.
Like its lead character, Ceremony is dressed for laughs, clothed in all the finery common to romantic comedies: geeky best friends crashing a party in search of revelatory adventure; an egotistical buffoon as the lead character’s romantic competition; a younger sibling (Paper Heart‘s Jake M. Johnson – heartfelt and hilarious in every scene) who’s satisfied being a loser since the role of overachiever has already been taken; and of course, a lovelorn lad who clings to his romantic delusions until they blow up in his face.
Yet the heart of the film is deep, complex and ultimately more serious than its initial trappings may suggest. Showing startling maturity for a first-time writer-director, Max Winkler is less concerned with easy laughs and poppy punchlines than with peeling back the layers of his characters’ insecurities, revealing the damaged heart beating beneath the surface and the wounded ego that struggles to gain attention.
Is Sam searching for true love or for unconditional acceptance from a mother figure? When we engage in the ceremonies of courtship, are we following our hearts or being led astray by our desires? Drawing seamlessly upon these themes while eliciting pitch-perfect performances from a terrific cast, Winkler announces himself as a talented director capable of plumbing the depths of human relationships. –TIFF