Review: Ham on Rye

Title: Ham on Rye
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Director: Tyler Taormina
Starring: Haley Bodell, Cole Devine, Audrey Boos, Gabriella Herrera
Runtime: 1 hr 24 mins

What It Is: A group of teenagers and young adults begin “the most important day of their lives”. For some of them, it’s prom night. For others, it’s something completely different.

What We Think: The opening scene for Ham on Rye is a simple yet incredibly important one: a person tries to light a firework, but his lighter just isn’t working. Others watch in anticipation, and when the fuse is finally lit, so is the film’s story, bursting into a colorful, abrupt, and raw take on the coming of age picture. If I were to describe this film in the simplest way possible… think American Graffiti directed by David Lynch. Graffiti is one of my favorite films of all time, and this can certainly join its ranks.

The presentation is phenomenal. The film is shot like a documentary, with experimental and creative frames that perfectly capture the essence of what the story is conveying. The film’s performances are so good that I’m not sure that I can call them performances: each character serves as a representation of a different side of adolescence, but at the same time they feel like actual people. Now, it’s clear that this film may very well be an extension of the mumblecore genre, but the way in which it presents the story is one of the most unique I’ve seen.

If you’re used to your typical ’70s, ’80s, or 90’s coming of age story, this one entirely belongs to the 2000’s/2010’s, avoiding the feel-good and sometimes unrealistic representation of growing up (no spontaneous musical numbers or young romance here) and breathing new life into the way stories like these are told. There are instances where I felt disturbed, euphoric, horrified, melancholic, and nostalgic, emotions that I never thought I’d find in a film such as this one. Truly incredible direction here.

One thing that worries me is that the film is not as accessible for audience members as most films in the genre. If you are looking for a feel-good story and a happy ending, well, you may get one. It all depends on your interpretation of the film. And that’s what makes this coming of age story so unique. You really have to pay attention to all the subtle messages that are shown through its cinematography and dialogue (I’m not even sure if there was a script, because everything just feels so real), and it enraptured me from the very beginning. 

Our Grade: A+, This film is destined to become a cult classic. A fascinating way of telling a story we’ve heard before through a new lens, exploring themes that are often overlooked in the genre’s other entries, with a breathtaking presentation. It’s one of my favorites of the year and I can’t wait to see it again!

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Author: James Snyder