The Netflix Files: October 13, 2011

Tonight at 7 pm, the Ivy Film Festival will host an advance screening of Martha Marcy May Marlene at Granoff’s Martinos Auditorium. The film, starring Elizabeth Olsen (the younger sister of Mary-Kate & Ashley, credited as “Girl in Car” in How the West Was Fun), won the Best Director award at Sundance earlier this year. It also currently holds a 93% rating on RottenTomatoes. The screening will be followed by a Q&A from some of the film’s producers (who also held a filmmaker panel at the 2011 Ivy Film Festival) and co-star Brady Corbet. Check out the awesome trailer here. If you couldn’t get tickets these past two days on the Main Green, doors open to non-ticket holders at 6:30 pm. Do it.

In previous years, the Ivy Film Festival has brought Aaron Sorkin, James Franco, Jack Nicholson and Martin Scorsese to Brown. Davis Guggenheim ’86 presented his influential documentary on the American education system, Waiting For Superman, two years ago. Other advance screenings have included the likes of (500) Days of Summer (with a screenwriter Q&A) and Star Trek.

Last year’s festival saw the pre-release screening of an indie dramedy called Ceremony. Writer/director Max Winkler and star Michael Angarano (“that guy who dated Kristen Stewart”) appeared after the screening to answer questions. The film was released on-demand before its extremely brief theatrical release, and was largely ignored by the American viewing public before finally being tossed, like so many crappy indie dramedies, into the depths of the Netflix Watch Instantly database. Destined to be forgotten.

And that’s a shame. Because Ceremony was good.

The film tracks Sam Davis (Angarano), a twentysomething hack writer, as he travels to Long Island to sabotage the nuptials of the woman he loves (Uma Thurman, playing Mrs. Robinson). At first glance, Sam is a blatant rip-off of Fitzgerald and Salinger, everyone’s two favorite writers in their sophomore year of high school. He spouts Caulfieldian “goddamns” and calls his best friend “old sport.” If that’s not enough, both authors are referred to directly in the dialogue. Writer/director Winkler gushed about how the crew was able to shoot “literally where The Great Gatsby was set: East Egg, Oyster Bay, Locust Valley.”

Dude looks just like Henry Winkler.

Have I turned you off of this movie yet? Well, let me add that Max Winkler is the son of Henry Winkler, better known as The Fonz. On the surface, Ceremony might be seen a case study in privilege. A film made only because Winkler had the resources to make it. I certainly thought so while watching it.

But midway through the film, something happens. Sam’s faux-academic-douchebag personality crumbles. His best friend abandons him, revealing that he doesn’t want to be “a supporting character” in his story. This single comment finally allows us to see the true theme of the film — one based on the solipsism of a protagonist who believes his life is one big Fitzgerald novel. Sam is not Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield or Benjamin Braddock — he is, like Winkler (and, likely, us), the immature boy that was at one point so deeply influenced by them.

From here, Ceremony emerges as a honest, well-crafted and somewhat brutal portrayal of Winkler’s own soul-searching. Accompanied, naturally (it is an indie dramedy, after all), by a Vampire Weekend track. Hear frontman Ezra Koenig’s fantastic cover of Paul Simon’s “Papa Hobo,” which he recorded specifically for use in the film:

Watch Ceremony on Netflix, and again, don’t miss the amazing opportunity to see Martha Marcy May Marlene tonight.

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