When I was in my late teens, I remember saying to my friends on a couple of occasions, that I felt like our lives were a movie; the late nite Denny’s parking lot hangouts, the endless driving around, the parties, the pool hopping, etc. Not sure how many people have this allusion during this time period, but I don’t feel like I’m alone when I say that there seems to be this sense of magic and wonder when you are that age; everything is new and fascinating and the world seems to revolve around you. If I had been filming my life during that time, it may have looked something like ‘Ham On Rye’, which is quite an accomplishment that ‘Ham On Rye’ is able to achieve this sense of magic and wonder. But as an adult, looking at ‘Ham On Rye’ as an example of the essence of youth, it seems like this movie that me and my friends were living, would have made for a boring movie for everyone else to watch.
The movie starts out quite promising, there is an opening scene of a firecracker being lit, that lives up to any suspense sequence that Brian DePalma would have helmed. Then, the opening title song kicks in, which would put any tortured soul in a good mood, and we find ourselves in some early Linklater ‘Slacker’ / ‘Dazed and Confused’ type of territory, where we start following around an endless array of characters in an aimless fashion. This type of storytelling works really well for this type of a movie, as youth is kind of an aimless thing. A bunch of teen gals and guys are dressed up, or are in the process of getting dressed up, and are acting a fool with each other. They all seem to be from well to do families as the neighborhoods they are seen in are very nice homes and no sense of danger is in sight. It seems like the characters are on their way to a school dance of some sort, but they end up at a sandwich place called “Monty’s”, which is the first sign that this movie will be subverting expectations. And that seems to be this movie’s modus operandi; to subvert the expectations of what a teen movie can and should be. As someone who is a beloved fan of the teen genre film, you’d think that I would find this idea refreshing and entertaining, but ‘Ham On Rye’ comes off as pointlessly meandering and posturing to make itself seem different.
This movie takes place over the course of one day and one night, and when it enters the night section it splits off from the first twenty or so characters we are introduced to, but for some reason, one character ends up showing up more so than the others. I wouldn’t really call her a “main character”, but she is someone that we end up seeing the most of onscreen. In this “night section”, we seem to end up hanging out with a bunch of cast outs and doofuses. Again, I get what this movie is trying to say in its own way, people leave town and “disappear” from your life, never to be seen again, and these “outcasts” we are stuck with in the second half of the film—where things get dark like the night—these people are the “townies”, the people that aren’t going anywhere in their lives, which is why we are stuck with them for the remainder of the film; we stay in the town and the film gets to show us the flipside to its first half.
There are ever so slight shades of Twin Peaks that show up during the second half, and the sound design also reminded me a lot of a David Lynch film. But in Lynch’s films, he can make the sound design exude a feeling and be something that is a part of the film and the image, while in this film it does begin to do that, but when it goes on and on, it treads the ground of feeling overbearing, monotonous, and obnoxious.
Distributed by Factory 25, which has been one of the leading distributors of American independent cinema of the 21st century—I’ve loved and enjoyed many of their titles—they’ve put out a bunch of mumblecore films on dvd, movies that came to fruition on their own terms, so it makes sense why they would be attracted to a project like this.