I can’t say I’ve seen a movie like Ham on Rye in quite awhile. It appears to be Tyler Taormina’s first feature film and it’s an impressive one for the most part. The performances are memorable, the soundtrack is melodic and mysterious and the wavering themes are meaningful.
The first half feels special. We’re thrown into the lives of a town’s teenagers on their way to some life determining event and we’re right there along with them. It feels good and puts a smile on your face. Just as any town would have it, we see various groups of teenage friends, all dressed up nicely as though they’re on their way to some prom….but of course its a deli hosted rite of passage tradition. And here on this special day is when you either fade into the blissfully thin air, happy and wanted or you’re left behind to deal with a doomed emptiness.
And once the last of the desirable teens literally disappears into thin air, the tone flips dramatically in the second half and the so on the nose they’re concrete themes melt into a tormenting abstraction. Your life can be cruising along nicely and all of a sudden you lose control and find yourself in an existential crisis of sorts. Our characters or rather who is left of them and now us as spectators have nothing to look forward to. The movie intentionally loses all momentum and focus and we’re left aimlessly wandering with the unwanted, the forgotten and the stranded, particularly a trio of teens, one who left the party, one who never made it due to a panic attack and one who is a bit older and now finds themselves in a rather depressing state. So it does a fantastic job drilling these same negative feelings into our brains.
But the idea enters some weird meta territory when we run into a group of Uno player once famous teen actors in real life. It drives home that odd 90s feel when we see Lori Beth Denberg and Danny Tamberelli of All That fame, Clayton Snyder of Lizzie McGuire fame and Aaron Schwartz of Heavyweights and the Mighty Ducks fame among the other many distraught, zoned out individuals at this party of the same mindset. It’s not to say they’re actually forgotten losers now, but you can’t tell me, if you at least recognized them, you weren’t in the slightest bit surprised to see them on screen again.
More aimless wandering takes place before the ending fully loses even the thematic momentum it had going for it and it just concludes in a park full of people who appear to have turned out OK. You get everything in the first half and you get nothing in the second half. While it was borderline embarrassing to smile when seeing the teens on screen just be teens, dancing, being awkward, having fun it was equally melancholic to see the unfortunate ones left behind. It’s mostly nihilistic in nature but it’s such a unique movie that it’s hard not to enjoy regardless.
It really makes me miss being a teenager and it makes me hate being an adult.