Virtual Screening Room: Ham on Rye



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2019 • dir Tyler Taormina • 85 min

Something like a DIY David Lynch version of Dazed and Confused, Tyler Taormina’s lo-fi, high-concept film examines that ineffable moment when suburban teens either ‘get out’ or stay stuck in their smalltown lives. In HAM ON RYE, it’s the Big Night and the kids are getting restless. Gathering in their cliques to prep for the life-changing evening to come, they gossip and gripe about their classmates; get dressed up in their Sunday Best; cruise the streets on foot or in their friends’ cars; pose for awkward pictures while being smothered by nostalgic relatives; and hypothesize about who they might hook up with. But there is something off about their conversations – they aren’t heading for the usual prom night rite of passage but, rather, a strange ritual that takes place at the local deli.

Taormina and co-writer Eric Berger hone in on that essentially suburban feeling that the occurrences of a single teenage event – whether winning the Big Game, getting the best report card, or dancing with Mr. or Ms. Right at the prom – can determine the course of one’s life to create a dreamlike, slice-of-life allegory. The film reaches its apex during a weird, dingy ceremony but also sticks around to follow the stragglers and the left behind – those who don’t fit into the shining futures prescribed by the arcane social structures of the seemingly normal community. Highlighted by tableaus that seem simultaneously dreamlike and rundown thanks to cinematographer Carson Lund, HAM ON RYE is a thought-provoking and imaginative take of the coming-of-age film.

“Ham on Rye has the uncanny echo of a disturbing real-life dream. A hauntingly off-kilter revision of the end-of-high-school drama.”
– Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“A work of gentle, genuine American surrealism — a lo-fi love song to those left behind by character and chance.”
– Ty Burr, The Boston Globe

“A free-floating and distinctly Altmanesque tapestry… Ham on Rye’s aesthetic is breathtaking.”
– Chuck Bowen, Slant Magazine