Reviewed for Cinefile Chicago. Opens for a virtual run at Facets Multimedia today.
Tyler Taormina’s HAM ON RYE (US)
Available to rent through Facets Cinémathèque here
HAM ON RYE, a suburban coming-of-age comedy-drama with a large ensemble cast, boldly stands out from the crowded landscape of recent American indies for its genuine narrative weirdness and singular aesthetic ambition. What seemingly begins as an end-of-high-school nostalgia trip, in the vein of AMERICAN GRAFFITI and DAZED IN CONFUSED, soon gives way to something far darker and more subversive: The movie’s first half features deft cross-cutting between short, clever scenes in which dozens of teenage characters are getting dressed and prepping for a big, prom-like event, an annual rite-of-passage where kids in late adolescence are expected to congregate at a popular local delicatessen in the unnamed town where the film is set, and ultimately pair off into couples for a celebratory dance. But, as in the early work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, HAM ON RYE proves to be something of a narrative shapeshifter—the warmth and humor of the early daylight scenes are soon displaced by a second half imbued with a potent, Hopper-esque sense of nocturnal melancholy. Most of the characters from the first half disappear at the dusky half-way mark—some quite literally into thin air—only to be replaced by a new cast of more disaffected-seeming young adults. One character, Haley (Haley Bodell), who pointedly flees from the deli before the dance begins, bridges the film’s two halves but it is unclear how much time elapses in between; the second half could either be taking place the same night as the first half or a couple of years later, an ambiguity that lends the movie much of its haunting and dreamlike power. What does it all mean? I think that Taormina, a first-time feature filmmaker but hardcore cinephile who is also a talented musician, intends for the narrative to function as a kind of complex metaphor for the notion of “growing up” in general and, more specifically, the way some people leave their hometowns in an attempt to fulfill ambitious destinies while others choose to sadly remain behind. But see it and decide for yourself: independent American cinema of this uncommonly poetic caliber deserves to be seen and discussed far and wide. (2019, 85 min) [Michael Glover Smith]