Uma Thurman and Lee Pace star in "Ceremony." (David Giesbrecht / Magnolia…)
An ambitious but hard-to-buy coming-of-age story, "Ceremony" rests unsteadily upon the pairing of Michael Angarano and Uma Thurman, along with some obvious inspirations — among them Fitzgerald, Salinger, Wes Anderson and "The Graduate."
The time period is unspecified, but there's a '70s sensibility to the proceedings (not a cellphone in sight), if not the intended character-driven punch. Angarano plays Sam, a motor-mouthed 23-year-old with preppie affectations and literary aspirations. That his genre of choice is children's books (replete with romantic longing and violent comeuppance) is just one of several questionable elements in the comic drama's premise.
Sporting a vermilion suit and a bad-idea mustache, Sam crashes the wedding weekend of Zoe (Thurman) at her fiancé's Long Island estate. Like Angarano, Lee Pace, as the groom, is called upon to play an outsize character: a documentarian of considerable self-regard. Sam's unwitting accomplice is a friend (Reece Thompson) who's as timid as Sam is assertive.
Their yin-yang makes a certain lopsided-relationship sense, but even after Sam's connection to the luminous Zoe is explained, and even given Thurman's nuanced performance, it remains a riddle wrapped in an enigma.
If the scenario is unconvincing, debuting writer-director Max Winkler has a feel for the dynamics of this kind of ritualized yet informal social gathering, and his affection for his characters is clear. There's a touch of the ridiculous about all of them, but eventually their complexities shine through the slathered-on quirkiness that makes the early scenes tough going.
MPAA rating: R for some language, sexual references and drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.