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  Ham on Rye Never Get To Fall In Love, Never Get To Be Cool
Year: 2019
Director: Tyler Taormina
Stars: Haley Bodell, Audrey Boos, Gabriella Herrara, Adam Torres, Luke Darga, Sam Hernandez, Blake Borders, Cole Devine, Timothy Taylor, Gregory Falatek, Laura Wernette, Lori Beth Denberg, Danny Tamberelli, Clayton Snyder, Aaron Schwartz
Genre: Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's that time of year again in this suburban smalltown, where the kids of the community get together to celebrate the end of school and the beginning of something more exciting: the rest of their lives. Haley (Haley Bodell) and her two best friends have bought special dresses for the occasion, floaty, lacy and white, and they cannot hide their anticipation, though perhaps Haley is not quite as convinced this will be all it's cracked up to be. Their schoolfriends team up to talk about nothing in particular, not able to discuss the big event for fear they may jinx it, and while spirits are high, so are the stakes for the rest of the night - and their futures.

Director Tyler Taormina (writing with Eric Berger) may have been alluding to Charles Bukowski's account of his schooldays by choosing that title of Ham on Rye for his feature debut, for they both had the uncomfortable ring of authenticity, and while ostensibly the authors were looking back with amusement, the more you thought about the results the more you considered there was very little funny about it at all. The story, if you could call this loose collection of vignettes that, began with an apparent homage to Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, but it soon became apparent this was one of those films that would have you frequently pondering the references.

Although the lazier go-to namecheck would be David Lynch (because smalltown weirdness), actually this was more reminiscent of Peter Weir, specifically works like Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Truman Show, where everything seems normal but it doesn't take much to tip a balance and make you realise that all you took for granted is in fact both precarious and unacceptable. Not that this effort was hugely dramatic, it preferred to coast along on a surface of mundanity that has you twigging the rituals of school, of your early life defining your older years, are either deeply unfair or fittingly embrace those who refuse to conform, even as it snuffs the spark from their existence.

Who was to say, pondered Ham on Rye, that leaving your hometown, or wherever you originally hailed from, to move onto ambitious pastures new was not as much of a trap as it was for those who never did leave, who stayed behind because for whatever reason they were thwarted in their hopes and dreams? And who was to say those who left would not be similarly frustrated, they would simply be so in a different location? Obviously this did not apply so much to those who lived in the big city all their lives and had the feeling of belonging to something bigger than themselves, nor did it apply to those who had a peripatetic childhood, never really settling down for a long period of time thanks to their parents (or lack of them). But the film had great sympathy for anybody who thought, wait a minute, why should I go along with this?

Why should you fall in love, get a job, have kids, just because society tells you to? It was getting a little teenage angsty, wasn't it? Yet the tone of the dreamlike and off-kilter rescued the movie from disappearing down a petulant rabbit hole of self-centredness, especially when as we drew to the end a heroine made herself known, someone who said, you know what? I don't need this judgement, this expectation, this rejection, I'm going to see what else there is to do. Alas, the tragedy of that was the implication there was nothing else to do at all, and if you decide not to fit into a predetermined slot your community decides for you, then you may as well give up on life altogether. Make no mistake, under that series of increasingly aimless scenes of people with nowhere to go there was a sinister, unsettling dawning that if you go against the grain, there's nothing for you on this planet, and with that this grew quietly powerful. Its cast of predominantly young non-professionals had a gauche, authentic quality that only made this hit all the harder if you have ever felt, as the old song goes, "Is that all there is?"

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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