Sometimes screenplays sound like their own reviews. “I’m not going to be a supporting character in your pathetic little story. It’s unoriginal,” a supporting character played by Reece Thompson tells star Michael Angarano in the midst of Ceremony. Nonetheless, he’s fated to be the sidekick as Angarano makes a last-ditch attempt to win back Uma Thurman, whom Angarano thinks he’s destined to love. The study in contrasts offered by their two characters—Thurman towers over the diminutive, fidgety, and appreciably younger Angarano—gives the film a little spark. Ditto the way director Max Winkler apes secondhand Wes Andersonisms, occasionally deftly. He’s studied quirks, camera swoops, and the strategic deployment of resonant pop songs well.
Playing a writer and illustrator of poorly received storybooks, Angarano unwittingly ropes Thompson into a scheme to disrupt Thurman’s wedding to an egotistical British documentarian (played with amusing brashness by Lee Pace) held at a sprawling, seaside estate. Once there, they begin mingling with a crowd of colorful eccentrics. The weather is quirky and windswept with occasional outbursts of melancholia, as Angarano reconnects with Thurman while considering the wreck he’s made of his life. Meanwhile, Thompson struggles with his man-childish tendencies as the pre-wedding festivities start to descend into debauchery.
Winkler directs with a borrowed sense of assurance. Ceremony moves briskly and confidently, its smooth camera movements counterbalanced by dialogue deployed with rat-a-tat pacing. Trouble is, it feels like a film going through the motions, never finding mooring in believable human feelings. (If nothing else, Winkler makes it that much easier to appreciate what Anderson does.) Though Ceremony is never better than pleasantly derivative, its best moments suggest Winkler might someday make a movie worth watching. But not yet.