Ham on Rye
Ham on Rye is less satire of coming-of-age teen dramas, more comprehensive re-rendering. As well as negotiating the usual genre tropes – the various lovelorn tendencies of youth – Tyler Taormina’s feature debut is preoccupied with mood. High school disaffection is shot through an increasingly sullen aperture, producing a sometimes comic and finally gloomy vision of prom night, mysterious and without end. Emphasis on tone contributes to this sense of endlessness, a harsh and claustrophobic longueur within which suburban children either stagnate or disappear entirely.
In lieu of plot development we have character portraits. First among equals is Haley (Hayley Bodell), a sympathetic girl with vague academic ambitions, these mocked by her contemporaries. As with the others, Haley’s trajectory is decided by two moments: a delirious prom partner selection in the local deli and the subsequent dance in a club disco. Functioning as eerie rites of passage or anti-emotional climaxes, they are undercut with banal stylising, with the edges filed off. Sliding doors appear off-kilter, unable to correctly shut.
Shades of an unfamiliar dream, these scenes arrange the diverging fates. Fledglings enter the ether or remain in the suburbs. Destiny looks like a journey into celestial bliss or a reckoning with existential abandonment. All rests on a thumbs-down or a thumbs-up, on looking into a disco ball and asking it to look back. Carson Lund’s cinematography ironically frames the arbitrary impulses that define teenage desire, encouraging a series of otherworldly tableau. By taking youthful folly to its logical endpoint, that of pure melancholy, the film provokes deep unease. This is not Dazed and Confused.
Gauche projections of adolescence pockmark the protracted sadness. To talk at cross-purposes is to conform to social expectations. Taormina captures non-sequiturs and intermittent silences with half-wry detachment, using a tactic of deliberate tedium and discomfort. Elsewhere parents are typically useless figures who are desperate for their kids to fit in, to succeed in the rituals of growing up. The age gap is unbridgeable. Such incongruities exist in a world of infinite isolations, these embodied by social pariahs whose young lives are suspended in a permanent state of missing out.
Ham on Rye does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Locarno Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Locarno Film Festival website here.