Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Enriching, soulful, sorrowful: James Schamus' adaptation of Philip Roth's INDIGNATION

We're nowhere near the end the year, yet all these wonderful "year's bests" keep appearing. You'd think it was December -- or at least autumn -- already: The Innocents, Captain Fantastic, Homo Sapiens, Hell or High Water (which I won't be reviewing for a couple more weeks). And now appears a new --  and for my money best -- adaptation of a Philip Roth work to yet hit the screen.

It is the first full-length film to be directed by an icon of American independent cinema, James Schamus, and what a lovely job he has done! Granted, many of us movie lovers, who have such a soft spot in our hearts for Mr. Schamus as a groundbreaking producer over decades now, were no doubt hoping for something good. But this has exceeded all our -- mine, at least -- expectations. (And TrustMovies is not a huge fan of the work of Mr. Roth.) I have not read the particular Roth novel on which the film is based, but unless Mr Schamus has changed things rather drastically, this would appear to be one of the kindest and most caring of this author's works.

I don't believe that the filmmaker has sentimentalized things, either. INDIGNATION seems more a clear-eyed and honest -- if  quiet and unshowy -- look at 1950s America, in which to be at all "other" (whether Jewish, or atheist, or a sexually-active-and-happy-about-it young woman) is to court reprobation, if not outright shunning. Fit into the groove, please. Or keep silent. Or get out of town.

Our hero, Marcus -- played with a quiet strength and masculine beauty by Logan Lerman, (center, two photos above) in what is certainly his best role yet -- is both a Jew and an atheist who has come from New Jersey to attend a posh college in Ohio (where Jews have their very own dormitory -- and are expected to join it forthwith). Olivia, the young woman he meets and is very attracted to (the also beautiful Sarah Gadon, above, who comes across here as strongly as I've yet seen her on screen), is so sexually forward that she throws our young man for a loop. But, boy, does he try to figure all this out and make things "work." (Most young people will not have a clue what it was like to have lived though the uber-conforming, sexually rigid 1950s. This movie provides as good a foundation as any.)

At odds with Marcus -- even though they would want to think quite otherwise -- are the school's Dean (a splendid job by actor playwright Tracy Letts, above) and our boy's own mother (yes, this is Philip Roth novel, after all), brought to immense life and even greater strength by Linda Emond, below. (In a smaller role, Danny Burstein plays Marcus' father as a man sadly unravelling.)

Ms Emond has a scene toward the conclusion of the film that is as strong as any we've seen so far this year. She should be a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actress nod. The scene involves her wringing a promise from her son that is perfectly understandable -- and yet you'll want to put your fist through her face for demanding it. (This is the second great "mother" scene this year, after Noémie Lvovsky's turn in the recent Summertime.)

Dialog is vital in this movie, and so well has Mr. Schamus coaxed his cast that you'll hang on every word. There's one scene midway along between Lerman and Letts that becomes an immediate classic of its kind. Visually, too, the director/screenwriter-adaptor has done some beautiful stuff -- especially the manner in which he ties beginning and end to all that has come in between. This is a quiet movie. And yet it is so full of life that, in its own way, it surges. I would not have missed it, and I can't wait to see it again, once it hits home video.

From Roadside Attractions, Indignation, after premiering in New York and Los Angeles last week, opens this Friday, August 5, here in South Florida (and elsewhere) -- in Miami at the AMC Aventura and Regal South Beach; in Ft. Lauderdale at The Classic Gateway Theatre; in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theatres and Regal Shadowood 16; and at the Movies of Delray in Delray Beach. The film will expand into even more theaters on August 12. 

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