Review: Indignation (Sundance)
PLOT: A Jewish boy (Logan Lerman) attending a WASP-y university on a scholarship, falls for a beautiful, sexually provocative classmate (Sarah Gadon).
REVIEW: Novelist Philip Roth is generally considered to be the hardest author to adapt to films. While screenwriter Nicholas Mayer gave it his best shot with THE HUMAN STAIN and ELEGY, the books are probably too specific to their form to make for good movies. However, writer James Schamus, the former head of Focus Features whoís best known for his work as a writer for Ang Lee, has really pulled off the translation of novel-to-film with INDIGNATION, which marks his directorial debut.
Given that - at fifty-six - Schamus is an industry veteran, INDIGNATION does not feel at all like a first feature. Itís very confident in itís slow, deliberate style. Anchored by an excellent performance by Logan Lerman as Rothís hero Marcus Messner, itís very easy to get taken-in by Schamusís well-crafted film. The story is an intriguing exploration of fate and fifties sexual morals, with the story basically being Marcusís incredibly obnoxious reaction to getting oral sex on the first date from Gadonís blonde beauty.
Nebbish to the extreme, Lermanís reinvented himself for the part. Youíd never know this was the same fresh-faced kid who played Percy Jackson. Here, heís absolutely believable as Rothís complicated and obsessive hero. Gadon makes an interesting contrast to Lerman. A blond-haired, blue-eyed WASP, she looks like a kind of campus Grace Kelly, albeit one thatís surprisingly immediately sexually available to the virginal Morris.
Looking at the time from our modern perspective, itís easy to think Morris is insane for his reaction to getting intimate, but one must remember the high-strung morals of the era. This is brilliantly depicted in a show-stopping, extended scene where a sweaty, nervous Morris debates sexuality (and then religion and politics) with his severe Dean, memorably played by Tracy Letts (the writer of KILLER JOE and BUG, and most recently a star on Homeland). The give-and-take is so good that when the scene came to an end there was even a smattering of applause from the usually quiet press audience - which is no small feat.
Through it all, INDIGNATION thoroughly feels like Roth, and as such is certainly not for everyone. Dialogue-heavy in the extreme, sometimes itís easy to get lost in the rat-a-tat-tat of the exchanges, but the movie is never anything less than intriguing for fans and non-fans of the author alike. This is probably the start of a whole new phase of Lermanís career, and Shamus similarly will find himself much in-demand as a director now. While maybe too arthouse to crossover with a huge audience, this should have a great specialized run when new-found distributor Summit puts it out, and should help them make establish themselves as more than just a home for YA adaptations.