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First-time feature director Tyler Taormina has dreamed his way into a very strange and intriguing film: a Gen-Z reverie about life and fate, somewhere between The Prom and The Purge. The film never behaves as if it is anything other than a realist coming-of-age drama but there is something else going on.
Haley (Haley Bodell) is part of a clique of popular high-school kids in a bland suburban town who are preparing to take part in a local tradition. She and some other girls are wearing floaty dresses of sacrificial white and getting ready to go down to a local deli called Monty’s – along with a whole crowd of other kids – for what seems to be a pairing-off ritual, like a dance without music or dancing. But there is a lot riding on this, and Haley can’t persuade herself that she wants to join in.
Ham on Rye is a satirical parable on conformism and aspiration, and it speaks to anyone who, in settled adulthood, looks back to when their life and romantic chances were arbitrarily decided by a few events in their teens and early 20s. And there’s another layer, too. Ham on Rye takes a bleakly subversive look at the whole idea of breaking free of your boring suburban home town and making it in the glamorous adult world beyond. This is the theme of so many films, and perhaps it is the overriding theme of Hollywood itself. So many films succumb to the romantic fantasy that the way to do this is to be a rebel, a free-thinker, a defier-of-norms.
Yet this film, in its surreal way, is grimly about something closer to the un-surreal truth: the people who got out of their boring, philistine home towns were overwhelmingly the competent conformists, at least outwardly and temporarily. They were the ones who worked hard, got good grades and went far away to college, where their individuality could at last flourish. Taormina’s meditation on all this could be compared to Yorgos Lanthimos or Gus Van Sant, but it is very individual work, as creepy as a ghost story.
• Ham on Rye is available on Mubi from 11 January.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Ham on Rye review – subversive satire on suburban conformity | Drama films