‘Ham on Rye’: Tyler Taormina’s Debut Feature Pays Homage to The Youth of Yesteryear
Director Tyler Taormina’s debut feature Ham on Rye (2019) captures a refreshing, yet satisfyingly nostalgic journey of transformation and rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood. This coming-of-age spectacle is reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) and Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999), incorporating iconic elements that transport the audience back to the cultural and glory days of the ’90s.
Crossing Over into the Unknown
The story revolves around a mystical and prom-like ritual at a neighborhood delicatessen where gawky teenagers in formal vintage sundresses, as well as suit and ties, come together to bond over sandwiches, ceremonial dancing, and awkward flirting. On one of the most important days of their lives as they transition to adulthood, these teenagers are faced with a life-changing decision whether to leave their suburban hometown or stay in their comfort zone and continue with their mundane lives. The film creatively encapsulated the innocence and thrill of growing up as well as being enthusiastic about venturing into the unknown.
As part of the ’90s generation, it was riveting to see the actors I grew up watching make their way back to the silver screen. It was impossible not to gush over seeing Lori Beth Denberg from All That (1994) and Figure It Out (1997), Danny Tamberelli from The Adventures of Pete & Pete (1991), and Aaron Schwartz from The Mighty Ducks (1992) all together in the same room. Not to mention, the magnetic mixtape of old school beats and an extensive cast of teenage non-actors who beautifully brought their characters to life in a delicate and natural way that added a dimension that accurately evoked the essence of the story.
This coming-of-age spectacle is reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) and Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999)…
Taormina’s impeccable work and exceptional vision were evident in every frame. During our sit-down with the director, he expressed that the story was originally inspired by a random joke that his friend made about going to sandwich shops to hook up. The striking concept was too hard to ignore and he was instantly locked into the idea of turning it into a feature film. While most independent and commercial films nowadays strive to produce stories that raise awareness on various social issues, Taormina, on the other hand, envisioned the film to be a source of inspiration to audiences to preserve their affinity for cinema and develop a penchant for exploring other forms or style of cinematic storytelling.
Before becoming an independent filmmaker, Taormina began his career as a musician for an indie band then as a screenwriter penning stories for kids’ television. His strong fascination with classic ’90s TV culture had a huge influence on his filmmaking style, so much so that his goal was to create a masterpiece in the same caliber as the hit show on Nickelodeon called Hey Arnold! (1996), for today’s generation. He believed that the only way his out of the box ideas would see the light of day is if he made it himself, and in the process, intensified his passion for great cinema.
Overall, it’s worth noting that the film’s distinctive voice, transcendental aesthetics, and multi-layered narrative make it an unparalleled tour de force that cannot be simply compared or narrowed down to a single interpretation – truly a film of its own kind.
Our Beguilement Towards All Things Old School
There are some things that you just can’t leave in the past no matter how hard you try, and that particularly rings true with millennials who were born in the ’90s – a decade that birthed timeless looks, art, music, films, tv shows, and pop culture.
Psychologist Erica Hepper explained that “[n]ostalgia is the warm, fuzzy emotion that we feel when we think about fond memories from our past. It helps us deal with transitions. The young adults are just moving away from home and or starting their first jobs, so they fall back on memories of family Christmases, pets and friends in school.”
Being a generation caught up between life before the internet and the digital age, we are constantly homesick for a time in our lives when things were much simpler and the hustle and bustle of adulthood was a far-fetched notion. It has become a default coping mechanism for the so-called burn out generation to crave and relive such significant and comforting formative years.
Taormina’s portrayal of such a vibrant era brought back the much-needed soothing childhood memories…
Due to its powerful influence and appeal to people, it comes as no surprise that Hollywood has endlessly integrated some form of “nostalgia” in films and tv shows from Stranger Things (2016) to remaking Saved by the Bell (1989), to attract and excite audiences from various generations. Disney has further proven this statement by remaking most of its classic animated films into live-action in the past years.
Ham on Rye (2019) indeed rendered the unadulterated kind of nostalgia to its (millennial) audience. Taormina’s portrayal of such a vibrant era brought back the much-needed soothing childhood memories at a time when we need them the most.
Ham on Rye is available to view via virtual cinemas and select theatres. For more details, head over to Factory 25’s website.