College was always just one sexual experience, really.
It’s the early 50’s and Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) is ready to start a new chapter in his life. Rather than risking his life for his country in the war, something all of his other friends are doing, he decides to go to college, far, far away from home to Ohio. There, Marcus goes through the same old problems of studying too long, not getting along with his roommates, and having issues with his teachers. However, the one thing that keeps Marcus actually interested in this college life is the illustrious and mysterious Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon). Eventually, Marcus builds up enough courage to ask Olivia out on a date, and it ends with them engaging in some controversial and naughty acts. While Olivia thinks as if she’s done nothing wrong and, if anything, just helped pleasure someone she’s attracted to, Marcus is shocked and has no idea what to think. After all, it’s 1951 and no one really does what Olivia to Marcus on this one fateful day – even if they do, they don’t ever tell people about it. Then, word travels round about Marcus and Olivia are left, wondering what to do with their college careers and most importantly, with one another.
For Philip Roth, it seems as if no matter how good his novels are, they don’t always seem to translate well to the screen. That’s to be said with a lot of writers and their pieces of work, however, with Roth, it seems to be all too glaring and obvious; someone who’s narrative voice just hasn’t translated yet to film, to where someone can perfectly understand what sense of mood he’s trying to give off. People have attempted to try and capture this (and others still are trying to), yet, have come up short.
Writer/director James Schamus is, finally, the rare exception.
While Indignation itself is a movie adaptation without any sort of narration that sometimes provide to be the best parts of Roth’s books, it actually ends up working in the movie’s favor, as it allows for there to be more attention set on the look and feel of this whole film. For one, it’s a lot more downbeat and sad than you’d expect; the grainy way the movie looks, to the sometimes silent way these characters talk, it all feels like we’re in the Depression, when in reality, we’re stuck in the beginning of the 50’s, where teens were getting sent to Korea and everyone was still finding their place after the war. And for what reasons?
Well, the movie seems to address these questions, but without ever answering them – which is fine, because Schamus makes it clear from the beginning that isn’t the kind of story that’s meant to sum up the underlining repression of the 50’s. If anything, it’s mean to be one, sole tale of a young man, trying to navigate throughout the world, one step at a time, as well as he can without losing his head. While it sounds conventional and somewhat hokey, Schamus and his cast keep it all together to where it works and, even if you weren’t alive during this time to feel some sense of nostalgia, you still feel compelled by watching it all play out.
But of course, the movie doesn’t always even itself out.
For example, it sometimes feels like the protagonist, Marcus, is a bit of a mess himself, albeit an expected one. Due to him being such a young guy, at a very confusing time in his life, and trying to make that awkward transition from childhood, to adulthood, the movie mixes and mashes with trying to identify what kind of person he is. We get that he’s going through some growing-up pains, but how severe are they? Better yet, how are they brought on in the first place? By him? His overbearing parents? His rude roommates? His needy and somewhat psycho gal-pal? His Communist-like Dean? His religion?
While it’s fine that Schamus brings all of these different ideas up, it’s a tad infuriating to see him touch on all of these, yet, still get that chance to fully fall down on what he’s trying to say about Marcus, the character. Instead, we mostly rely on Logan Lerman’s great performance, showing all sorts of anger being bent-up in this kid, while also making him seem compassionate and loving to those who deserve it the most. He’s got a bit of an edge to him that’s typical with Roth, and Lerman plays it up so perfectly that it would be neat to see him in more adaptations after this, even if it’s not playing this same character, or what have you.
And everybody else is pretty great, too. Sarah Gadon keeps us interested in whether or not she’s a total whack-job, or just someone who needs love in this cruel, dark world; Linda Emond plays Marcus’ mother who never makes it quite clear what’s on her mind, but we do feel her pain; Pico Alexander shows up as, what you’d assume to be the typical “frat jock a-hole”, but turns out to be the most interesting character of the whole flick; and Tracy Letts just about nails every scene he has as Dean Caudwell, although it’s mostly because he has some of the best scenes in the whole flick. In fact, the few scenes that he has, can sometimes take up a large portion, but because they’re so well-done and well-acted, they’re hard to talk about at greater-length.
You’ll just know them when you see them and they’ll steal the show.
Consensus: As Roth adaptations go, Indignation is good in that it balances out a certain level of heart, humanity and raw passion, with some solid performances to help it out, as well.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire