Max Winkler’s Reverse Coming-of-Age Story

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Published September 15, 2010

Max Winkler (yes, son of Henry) debuted his first feature film, Ceremony, at the Toronto International Film Festival on Monday night. Aside from the famous surname, you might recognize Winkler from his offbeat mockumentary, Clark and Michael, staring Michael Cera and Clark Duke. Having released a slew of short films after graduating from USC film school, Winkler’s latest is at once funny and heartbreaking in a way that only a first shot can be. Ceremony, which stars Michael Angarano opposite Uma Thurman, is a classic coming-of-age story, with an impeccably stylized, sardonic twist. Anganaro plays Sam Davis, a vertically challenged 22-year-old neurotic who’s fallen in love with a soon-to-be married former fling, Zoe (Thurman). After luring his naïve former best friend (Reece Thompson) to the Gatsbyeqsue Long Island mansion where Zoe is to wed a nouveau Crocodile Hunter (Lee Pace), Sam spends one hell of a weekend trying to woo back the one that got away.

We sat down with the director, along with Anganaro and Jake Johnson, who plays Zoe’s at once hilarious and tragic alcoholic brother, Teddy, the day after the premiere to quiz them on all things process and production, and what we ended up getting was an inside peek into the world that the three share. Probably not coincidentally, it’s not that far from that of the film.

RANDI BERGMAN: The film is reminiscent of so many classic characters, places, feelings and expressions. What were your inspirations?

MAX WINKLER: I would say JD Salinger is tied for first, along with Woody Allen. I love them both very much. I love to read a lot. We were shooting the movie on the Long Island Sound, so there was definitely a very nice sense of Fitzgerald. We love Hal Ashby and Mike Nichols, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Billy Wilder, and Scorsese movies, too.

MICHAEL ANGANARO: I think actually, as far as the tone of movie, you know, how you can look at it one way from the start and laugh, and then look at it another way and actually think it was very sad. That’s how delusional [my character] was. That balance reminded me of The King of Comedy a lot.

 

 

UMA THURMAN AND MICHAEL ANGARANO IN CEREMONY

 

 

WINKLER: It’s a love-hate relationship with Salinger, because you love him so much…and you love Franny and Zooey because it changed your life, and then you end up thinking that you’re the only one who’s life it changed. Then you see people you love it so much, and it changed their life too, and you sort of feel very unoriginal. But that’s really not a reason to stop liking something.

JAKE JOHNSON: They’re that popular for a reason.

ANGANARO: That’s what’s so typical about being 22. You’re the most impressionable. After I saw 8 Mile, I wore construction boots and rapped for a little bit. For the longest time in my life, I thought I was Rudy!

JOHNSON: You are Rudy mixed with Eminem. [LAUGHS]

ANGANARO: It’s the fact that you’re not founded yet. It takes an experience like this to establish you. [Sam] hasn’t had his heart broken, he hasn’t felt really low yet.

WINKLER: It’s kind of a coming-of-age story in reverse. It’s the story about a boy who believes he’s a man, and ends up realizing that he’s just a child…He really believes that he’s this Clark Gable leading man type character when he’s really not. His suit is actually hideous, his moustache is ridiculous. No one takes him seriously in the movie. I love how Whit [played by Lee Pace] treat’s Sam [Anganaro’s protagonist] in the movie.

JOHNSON: What I really like about the movie and the way Mike plays [Sam], is that he’s very confidently wrong.

WINKLER: That’s it!

JOHNSON: He’s owning the room, but no one else thinks he does. In the end, everyone just realizes that he wants to own a room!

BERGMAN: Tell us about Uma’s character.

WINKLER: She is incredibly romantic. She’s incredibly fun and he loves her in only a way that a 22-year-old could love an older, beautiful Uma. That’s a kind of pure, insatiable love that have the first time.

BERGMAN: It’s obvious from the rich colors, costumes and set design that you were really affected by the mis en scene. How so?

WINKLER: I feel incredibly anal about the visual aspect of the movie. I had an amazing production designer, an amazing costume designer. Before I even went out and got funding for the movie, I had a mix CD of all the music that would be in the movie. I write these gigantic playlists and then I have to go in and delete them song after song. I also sent out this visual blog for the movie with images of Louis Malle movies, images of the Kennedy compound on Martha’s vineyard… That beach scene that is just so Waspy and upper-crust, which is foreign to where I grew up, in West Los Angeles. Everyone who worked on the movie had impeccable taste.

BERGMAN: Is the film autobiographical?

WINKLER: When I wrote it, I knew I had to write a movie soon. It was kind of like that period in a woman’s life when she feels like she needs to have a baby. [Laughs] It was my pregnancy story.

BERGMAN: So your short films were your period?

WINKLER: Yes, that’s pretty accurate. I was going through a period in my life when I was feeling pretty heartbroken and had a lot of relationships with people who are represented in the movie. I wrote the first draft really fast because it’s much easier to write about people I know. I feel much more connected to it.  Any bit of heart that comes from the movie is probably that. I could relate to Mike’s character.