Ceremony Review [SXSW 2011]

Uma Thurman and Michael Angarano star as quirky erstwhile lovers in Magnolia Pictures’ new romcom Ceremony. Released on VOD today, and premiering at Austin’s popular SXSW Film Festival next week, Ceremony is a fresh romantic comedy with touching authenticity and wit.

Angarano plays Sam Davis, a man on a mission. Under the guise of taking his estranged best friend Marshall (Reece Thompson) out for the weekend, Sam means to crash his ex-lover’s wedding and stop her from making the biggest mistake of her life. Thurman plays love interest Zoe. She’s engaged to successful documentary filmmaker Whit (Pushing Daisies’ Lee Pace), and prone to “phases.” She also happens to be a good deal older than Sam, and some would say, just out of his league.

A frenetic ball of emotions and wit, Sam grapples with his love for an unavailable woman. He’s a writer, and in his (apparently mediocre) children’s books everything always ends happily ever after. Reality is more complicated and nuanced than his stories, and he learns the hard way about love, friendship and sacrifice.

Angarano brings the quirky Sam character to life. He plays Sam with an adorable likeability, despite the character’s selfish motivations and childishness. As the focal character of the story, audiences have little problem connecting with him and rooting for him. Sam’s awkward, reclusive friend is played by Thompson, who holds his own in a great cast. He’s funny in a subtle way and his character acts as a foil to Sam’s eager machinations.

Thurman does a great job as Zoe. It’s a character audiences have seen her play before, and she’s highly competent as the beautiful, sought-after romantic lead. The dynamic between Zoe and Sam is both funny and touching. In perhaps a planned choice, Angarano is at least half a foot shorter than Thurman. She literally towers over him, in more ways than one.

Screenwriter and director Max Winkler handles the film’s romance gently, and the comedy aggressively. The story is an exploration of love; the reality and the fantasy of it. But it’s also a fun film to watch, with plenty of witty repartee and situational comedy. As his first major film project, Winkler gets kudos for striking a good balance between the romantic and comedic elements. Some situations come across as cliched, but the witty dialogue saves it from being too contrived. Touching and unpredictable, Ceremony is a film with something for everyone.

Ceremony Review

Strong acting, witty dialogue and likeable characters make this a very enjoyable film.

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