Ham on Rye (2019)
Director: Tyler Taormina
Screenwriters: Tyler Taormina, Eric Berger
Starring: Haley Bodell, Cole Devine, Aaron Schwartz
Ham on Rye is a truly unique film based in suburbia as summer is beginning. It’s divided into two halves, each contrasting in thematic focus and visual composition. There is no protagonist; instead the film follows several characters over the course of a day. There’s a montage of high school kids getting dressed up in dresses and tuxedos, as if they’re going to prom, but they’re heading to a restaurant called Monty’s. Some travel by car, others by foot, and we see their interactions along the way.
The frames in the first half of Ham on Rye are filled with life, both human and the verdant, blooming landscapes that reflect where these kids are at in their life; that weird stage where high school is done and graduates go off to school or work, yet they’re still kids. There’s a focus on hands in shots; we see a girl painting her nails, a boy buckling his belt, another putting on Axe body spray, and these are shown in closeups. These shots show modern day suburban ritual, which is one thing Director Tyler Taormina wanted to impart and explore.
There’s a nostalgic feel to the film’s first half, reinforced by the technology and stylings. A group of girls read a letter from one of the group’s older sisters, who describes how life is “so good”. The cars, music and clothes are older. Monty’s itself is a diner from 1952. It fits well with remembering the “good ‘ole days” of being a kid.
This film stems from Tyler’s experience growing up in the suburbs, and how he sees the effects of leaving (or staying) home. He feels that there’s a pressure on kids to go, and that those that stay are stigmatized for that decision. He shows perspective and evokes empathy for every character, in no small part due to the performances. Even minor characters with few or no lines show humanity in a completely normal, relateable way. There’s value in everyone and any decision a person chooses to make.
Ham on Rye is dense enough that anyone can find an aspect to appreciate, though density shouldn’t be confused with complexity; it’s a simple film, which is part of its brilliance. If you like works that are off the beaten path, in terms of pacing and storytelling, it’s an excellent film to watch.