Author: Max Winkler
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Writer’s Potential: 4
Logline:A young children’s book author tries to stop the woman he’s sleeping with from marrying the man she’s engaged to.
Synopsis:At the public library, SAM (early 20s) reads a children’s book he wrote to a group of confused children and their equally confused parents. MARSHALL (20s) waits impatiently near Sam. A librarian asks Sam what he’s doing. Sam helpfully explains that he’s workshopping his new book. Sam and Marshall flee the library before the librarian calls security. Sam puts a suitcase into Marshall’s station wagon, then marvels at the amount of luggage Marshall brought for a three-day trip. Marshall launches into the variety of possibilities that could come up that he needed to prepare for, but Sam says all he wants to do is relax and catch up with Marshall, whom he hasn’t seen in a year. As they drive out of New York City and into upstate countryside, Marshall rolls past a large house loaded with cars and guests. Marshall thinks this is where they’re staying, but Sam uneasily tells him their hotel is down the road. Further down the road, Sam sees a man stepping out of a blue Fiat and into a general store. He tells Marshall to stop so they can get snacks. Inside, Sam introduces himself to TEDDY, an polite Englishman who invites Sam and Marshall to join them at the mansion up the street over the weekend. Sam and Marshall go a little further up the road, where they check in to a cheap motel with a Native American motif. With Marshall disappointed by what a dump it is, Sam suggests they tak Teddy up on his offer. Down on the beach, Marshall catches the attention of a sad-looking blonde maid, ESME. Sam encourages Marshall to make a love connection, while Sam mingles with the crowd until he finds ZOE (mid-30s). They clearly know each other. Zoe demands to know what Sam is doing here. Sam insists he coincidentally ran into Teddy (Zoe’s brother), who invited him.
Just as Zoe warns Sam to leave, her fiancé, WHIT COUTELL, arrives. Zoe reluctantly introduces Sam and Whit, a brash and condescending documentarian. To the shock of both Sam and Zoe, Whit announces that he’s changed the date of their wedding — to this Sunday. Sam tells Marshall that Whit and Zoe extended an invitation for them to stay at the house, and they’re taking them up on it. Marshall gripes that he likes their hotel. He gripes even more when he discovers the cat defecated in their tub, and there’s no hot water. Sam and Marshall get suited up and go down to a nighttime garden party. Teddy proposes an obscene toast to Whit and Zoe. Whit cuts him off by giving a rehearsed “off-the-cuff” speech about how muche he loves Zoe. Sam takes the opportunity to do the same, but none of the guests have a clue who he is. To avoid embarrassment, Sam wanders off to the woods to vomit in private. Marshall follows him. He points out that the story Sam was reading in the library bears remarkable similarities to the triangle that has formed between Sam, Zoe, and Whit. Sam denies it, saying the characters in his books are amalgams of many, many people. Whit screens his latest documentary for all his friends. Bored, Zoe wanders back into the house. Sam pulls her into a closet and kisses her. Zoe yells at him for being so dramatic, then yells at him for coming after she sent him a postcard and left him a VoiceMail explicitly telling him not to crash this party. She reminds Sam that she was engaged when they met, and nothing’s changed. When Sam won’t give up, Zoe accuses him of acting like a child and leaves the closet.
Teddy gives Sam and Marshall some pills, which cause them each to lose control. Marshall flirts with Esme as Sam stumbles into the arms of MARGARET. Later that night, Sam and Marshall reconvene. Sam brags about sex with Margaret. Marshall believes Esme led him on. Sam immediately turns the conversation back to Zoe. Marshall tells Sam he can see many reasons why Zoe would go for a guy like Whit. Sam doesn’t want to hear it. Zoe, wrapped in a sleeping bag, shows up at Sam’s room. Sam forces Marshall to wait in the bathroom while he invites Zoe in. She starts out apologizing, but it turns into another argument about her marrying Whit. Zoe discovers Sam’s latest book and asks all about it. Sam tells her the story, which is really just a metaphor for Sam, Zoe, and Whit. Zoe, on the other hand, is working on her vows. She can’t think of anything. Sam offers to help her, but she has a hard time thinking of anything she actually likes about Whit. The next morning, Marshall admits he listened to everything Sam and Zoe said. Since Sam has clearly failed, Marshall wants to leave. Sam refuses. He presents Zoe with a clumsily homemade necklace with Zoe’s name on it. When Whit sees it, he ridicules Sam yet again, then asks Sam to take a ride on the beach with him. While riding in his dune buggy, Sam’s surprised when Whit praises his writing. He makes the subtle suggestion that Zoe is over Sam by pointing out that Zoe often takes up hobbies with passion and vigor, only to drop them like a bad habit a few months later. Whit asks Sam if he likes sailing.
Back at the house, Marshall goes through Sam’s things. He finds the postcard from Zoe, along with a fancy engagement ring. Downstairs, Marshall bumps into Zoe. They get to talking, and Marshall asks to hear about how she and Sam met. Zoe explains that they met in New York, on a rainy day. Neither of them had umbrellas, but Sam had a newspaper that he offered to share, for protection. This is eerily reminiscent of another of Sam’s stories, about two caterpillars who share an umbrella. Marshall lets slip about Sam’s ring, enraging Zoe. When Sam approaches, Marshall tells him the car is packed and asks if he’s ready to leave. Sam says he bet Whit $700 that he could beat him in the group’s annual boat race. Marshall’s baffled. Neither he nor Sam know a thing about racing, but Sam figures it’s not that difficult. On the boat, Sam and Marshall get into an argument. Marshall knows that Zoe doesn’t see him as anything serious, but after Sam’s talk with Whit, he’s more convinced than ever that Zoe will leave him. They get into a fistfight, resulting in Marshall getting knocked into the water. Instead of helping him back in the boat, Sam presses on, convinced he’ll win.
After the race, Zoe confronts Sam about lying to him about not getting her postcard. Marshall seeks out Teddy but discovers he’s drowning in the ocean. Marshall rushes in and pulls him out. Zoe calls for a medic. Zoe performs CPR, saving him. Marshall yells at Sam for lying to him about Zoe and ridicules him for his desire to hang around with a bunch of rich, irresponsible babies. He decides to leave, without Sam. When Sam tries to stop him, Marshall decks him. Later, Whit comes upon Sam, bleeding from the nose. He doesn’t offer to help. Sam goes up to his room and practices a speech that he’s sure will convince Zoe to leave Whit. Instead, Zoe walks in on him halfway through the speech. She invites him to go for a walk. Zoe says she admires Sam’s persistence, but he has to give it up. Zoe keeps kissing her, until they finally have sex. Later, Zoe gets up, complaining she’s late for her wedding. Sam’s confused — he thought this changed the game. When Zoe tells him otherwise, Sam says he’ll ruin the wedding by telling Whit about their affair in front of everyone. Zoe says everyone, including Whit, already knows. Sam’s shocked. Zoe tells Sam to grow up, then leaves. Sam doesn’t follow.
A montage follows, intercutting a flashback of Sam and Zoe’s first meeting with present-day Sam leaving the house and hitchhiking back toward the city and Zoe getting ready for her wedding. As he walks down the road, Sam sees Marshall’s car blow past, heading back toward the house. He’s confused but keeps walking. Minutes later, Marshall returns. He stops for Sam. Sam gets in, and Marshall explains he went back to get Esme’s phone number. Sam apologizes for the way he treated Marshall. Marshall accepts the apology and asks how things went with Zoe. Sam smiles and says he ruined her wedding. At the wedding, Zoe prepares to read her vows. Zoe opens her notebook, which is blank. Inside is the postcard Zoe sent Sam, with her message crossed out and “He’s everything I’m not. Start from there” in its place. Sam and Marshall ride on.
Comments:Ceremony is a romantic comedy that lacks any actual romance. Despite some witty dialogue, the plot is too thin to get invested in, and the characters range from childish to irritating. As written, it merits a pass.
The script hardly has a story. In the first act, Sam and Marshall reconnect, then drive upstate and crash a party. In the second act, Sam tries desperately to convince Zoe to leave Whit while trying to one-up him. In the third act, Sam repeatedly humiliates himself and realizes things weren’t meant to be. Long, on-the-nose monologues describe Sam and Zoe’s relationship prior to this party-crashing, all of which sound like they’d form a more interesting and dramatic story, building up to this party-crashing rather than having the party be the whole story. Ceremony’s actual plot feels like the world’s longest third act, suffering from a lack of momentum, suspense, or stakes because it spends so much time backpedaling in order to explain the more compelling circumstances that led to this tedious party.
Sam’s childish behavior makes him an insufferable protagonist. The writer doesn’t reveal enough about who Sam is to make him seem like a flawed but relatable person. He also doesn’t change enough in the third act to make it feel like this story was an important learning experience. Marshall’s character has a little more weight, but his inexplicable devotion to Sam, until his 180 in the third act, is never explained and strains credibility. Zoe and Whit are given only the most superificial traits, preventing them from rising above stereotypes. This is most detrimental with Zoe, since the story would have audiences believe Sam would go to these great, crazy lengths to be with her, yet it’s never made clear why.
Actors could probably make these characters seem more interesting and less irritating, but the story has too many problems for it to coast on the charms of its cast.