Youngsters in tropeland: ‘Ham on Rye’
Youngsters in tropeland: ‘Ham on Rye’

We have seen it all before in the skewed teen movie Ham on Rye. That much is the point, director Tyler Taormina’s witty debut a wilful scramble of nostalgia trips. A million high school misadventures are grist for a stylised romp that plays like an installation or immersive theatre, American suburbia beyond familiar, pared back to the symbolic. A bunch of nerdish fellows tramp the sidewalks, earnestly discussing the merits of “porking”. The girls they pine for pass through nearby woodland in floaty white dresses like tribute acts to The Virgin Suicides. Hard rock dudes cruise by in a battered station wagon. For now the nature of the rites of passage they are all en route to remains obscure. Prom? Graduation? Child sacrifice? Whatever it is, it means the world to their parents. Don’t mess it up, a previously affable father screams at his son.

The weirdness only heightens when they get there, in a film that resembles the American Pie franchise as reimagined by conceptual artist Matthew Barney. Later, the dreamlike sunshine will darken. Enter another set of archetypes — older kids now, skulking outside all-night pharmacies. Better to be coming of age than to get there, Taormina suggests, here in a town where the tropes took over.

★★★★☆

On Mubi in the UK from January 11

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