Friday, August 12

REVIEW: Indignation

Directed by James Schamus
2016 Drama
1 hour 50 minutes
From Summit Entertainment and
Roadside Attractions

Logan Lerman
Sarah Gadon
Tracy Letts
Linda Emond
Noah Roberts
Ben Rosenfield
Bryan Nurton
Danny Burstein

Boy oh boy, here is another one where the less said the more wonderful it will be for you if you use your get-out-of-the-house card to go see it.  I won't divulge much of the story because since it's essentially a film about discovery, you, too, should be as wide-eyed as our hero. However, just a couple of things besides telling you above that it's a drama.

The film satisfies two passions of my movie-going world... a coming-of-age story, in this case a young man, and secondly, a period piece, here bringing vividly back life in 1951.

It is based on a novel by prolific American writer, Philip Roth, of Goodbye Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint fame.  Indignation is one of his more recent works, published just eight years ago and like his other semi-biographical novels, it dabbles in some attitude on middle-class Jewish Americans, atheism, sexual awakenings and more than a dab of angst.  

The focus of this touching story is Marcus Messner, a young man from New Jersey who is about to start college in Ohio.  In keeping with Roth's themes, this middle-class Jewish family is not too happy about the atheism but they're more concerned that their idealistic, rather innocent only child is going off to college and leaving their home and watch.

Marcus is certainly tense but he's endearing, a good thinker, bright, outspoken.  He knows he's a bit of an outsider and it is with that fact in mind that he finds an attraction to Olivia Hutton (I really like that name and someone else must have too because it's said a gazillion times), another outsider.  He's certainly attracted to her fresh, blonde, good looks as well but one senses it's her non-traditional ways he finds most compelling. How their relationship plays out is certainly at the heart of the film.

James Schamus fashioned a most intelligent screenplay out of Roth's novel.  I will always sing the praises of a film that is well-written, where characters just leap off the screen, where the words that come out of their mouths are believable and authentic.  In the case of coming-of-age stories, I may not be discovering myself as much as I am thrilled to be allowed to revisit those days of so long ago.  I get a sense of peace that comes with the reminder that most of us pretty much go through the same things.  But to get me there, boy, there needs to be some good, incisive writing.

This is Schamus' first shot at directing and he seems like such a natural at it that one wonder why he didn't do it before now.  He's no stranger to movie-making and no stranger to producing or writing.  He was the longtime CEO at Focus Features, an independent film distributor, a brave company that caught the brass ring on creating adrenaline for, as Schamus says, creating a safe place for voices outside the mainstream to speak.  In some fashion and often in association with two-time Oscar-winning director, Ang Lee, Schamus has given us Brokeback Mountain, The Ice Storm, Ride with the Devil, Sense and Sensibility, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, among others.

I only have one bit of criticism.  I am not adverse to the film being a decidedly talky piece but I do think there were a couple of scenes that were of such a weighty length that it caused a drag.  One particular scene, where Marcus is having a devil of a time with the dean of the school, while rich in exposition, simply seemed interminable and out of balance with all other scenes.  The tone may be too somber for some but I thought it worked.

It's another film with a poor title.  Yes, yes, I know it's the name of Roth's novel and it's true that Marcus certainly has bouts of indignation, but the one-word title covers only a portion of what the film is about and I think it lacks marquee value.

So with writing, directing, producing and a tiny bit of whining handled, let's move on to acting.  It is brilliant.  I think the effect of the overall story is better served, in this case, at least, by most of us being pretty unfamiliar with the actors in it.  Logan Lerman captured my attention as one of Heath Ledger's younger brothers in his first film The Patriot (2000).  He stood out for me as the feisty son in 3:10 to Yuma (2007), the delightful youth-in-bloom story, My One and Only (2009) and another first-love opus, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012).  By the time it came to the war saga, Fury (2104), it was Lerman I was going to see, not the star, Brad Pitt. His attraction for me is his sensitivity; he seems to know it's his calling card and he plays it to perfection.  It's a little too soon to perhaps be talking Oscars, but I hope this performance is remembered when nominations come out.  Bravo, Logan, my boy, bravo.

Equally sensitive is Sarah Gadon as Olivia. This was a role rich with possibilities and she never disappointed.  She and Lerman are an ideal match.  I found myself caring a great deal about what happens to them as a couple, similar to that I felt for the pair in The Notebook.  

Tracy Letts never lets up as the crusty dean who initially questions whether Marcus is fitting in and ends up with too many challenges for the young man to handle before he could take it no more.   This is the scene that I found overly long but it is acting deluxe.

The remainder of the cast, especially Linda Emond, as Marcus' overly-protective mother, is spot on.

I don't care what else is coming out this year... this will remain one of my favorites of 2016.

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