For the first time, director Tyler Taormina dreamed of a very strange and fascinating film: a Gen-Z reverie, somewhere between The Prom and The Purge, about life and destiny. The movie never seems to be something other than a realistic coming-of-age drama, but something else is going on. Haley (Haley Bodell) is part of a clique of famous high school children preparing to participate in a local ritual in a dull suburban town.
For what seems to be a mating rite, like a dance without music or dancing, she and a few other girls are wearing flowing, sacrificial white dresses and planning to head to a local deli called Monty’s with a whole gaggle of other kids.
Ham on Rye is a satirical parable of conformism and nostalgia, and would appeal to someone who, in adulthood, looks back at the time when a few incidents in their youth and early 20s arbitrarily determined their lives and romantic chances.
And there is also another category. Ham on Rye looks at the whole notion of breaking out of the dull suburbs and making it into the glamorous adult world in a grim, subversive way. This is the theme of so many films, and maybe it is Hollywood itself’s overarching theme.
So many films succumb to the romantic fantasy that a rebel, a free thinker, a rejecter of the norms is the way to get there…. In its surreal way, however, this film is grimly about something closer to the non-surreal truth: the people who came out of their dull, bourgeois hometowns were, at least outwardly and briefly, overwhelmingly competent conformists. They were the ones who worked hard, got good grades, and went to college far away, where they could eventually thrive in their individuality. The meditation of Taormina on all this may be comparable to Yorgos Lanthimos or Gus Van Sant, but it is a very individual work, as creepy as a ghost story.-Ham on Rye is available from Mubi on January 11.