The Movie Waffler New Release Review [MUBI] - HAM ON RYE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [MUBI] - HAM ON RYE

ham on rye review
Teenagers in a California suburb engage in a unique rite of passage.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Tyler Taormina

Starring: Haley Bodell, Cole Devine, Lori Beth Denberg, Danny Tamberelli, Aaron Schwartz, Clayton Snyder

ham on rye poster

Imagine Haddonfield without Michael Myers, Springwood without Freddy Krueger, Lumberton without Frank Booth. Now imagine the teens of those fictional suburbs dealing not with evil men but with the existential dread of encroaching adulthood. That goes some way to painting a picture of what to expect in Tyler Taormina's uniquely brilliant debut, Ham on Rye.

ham on rye review

In a California suburb in late spring, the town's teenagers prepare for a rite of passage seemingly handed down for generations. The girls dress like extras from Picnic at Hanging Rock (a movie that appears to have heavily influenced Taormina) while the boys wear ill-fitting and out-dated suits of the sort you might see your Dad wearing in faded old wedding Polaroids. Their destination is local diner Monty's, where the boys and girls will pair up through a mortifying process of selection before being mesmerised by what seems like a supernatural occurrence.

While his film is more concerned with mood, surreal atmosphere and vignettes of absurdist humour, Taormina does hone in on two characters, outsiders who failed to engage in the odd rite at Monty's. 16-year-old Haley (Haley Bodell) is the only teen who expresses doubts about the ritual, and walks out when the boy she had her hopes pinned on picks her best friend instead. A glimpse of Haley's possible future is offered through fast food worker Sloan (Cole Devine). He's a few years older than Haley, but we're left to guess that things didn't work out on his own trip to Monty's, and he now spends his evenings riding around with his stoner mates.

ham on rye review

When Haley tries to reconnect with her friends, who seem to have vanished, the central metaphor of Ham on Rye kicks in. Taormina has made a movie about our love-hate relationships with the small towns we grow up in and our desire to escape to something better. The first half of the film, which follows the teens on their pilgrimage to the deli, is a love letter to youth and suburbia in the mould of American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused, introducing us to a likeable collection of freaks and geeks in a setting that's almost idyllic in the simplicity of its charms. A lovely touch sees each of the teens press their palms against the handprint logo on the window of Monty's as they enter. Do they really want to escape such innocent cosiness?

It's following the ritual at Monty's that things take a dark turn into Lynchville. Haley's impending isolation from her friends is rendered tragic and terrifying, and it took me back to that awful night before I received my college acceptance letter, a night I spent rolling around plans in my head as to how I would survive in a suburbia I too was desperate to escape. A montage of the town under streetlights feels like it's been assembled from outtakes from the Halloween franchise, but it's not a masked killer stalking Haley, rather the cold hand of uncertainty.

ham on rye review

In a way, Ham on Rye is a body-snatching movie. The teens seem brainwashed by their parents to engage in the Monty's rite, with Dads instructing their sons not to "fuck it up" and talking wistfully about how they went through the same rite as young men. A postcard from a young girl's older sister reads suspiciously like it was written by a kidnap victim ("I'm happy, I'm really, really happy."). In the movie's darkest moment, an unchosen boy is left in the middle of nowhere by his disappointed mother. Haley is the Kevin McCarthy figure here, the only one who acts upon her free will, even if it does scupper her chances of fulfilling her flight from the suburbs. A closing credit sequence in a park suggests that Haley might have made the right choice. Maybe the suburbs aren't so bad. After all, as Haley admits, the food is great at Monty's.

Ham on Rye
 is on MUBI UK from January 11th.

2021 movie reviews