Sep 26

“Indignation”: College Guy Meets Troubled Gal

James Schamus‘s new Indignation is a film adaptation of author Philip Roth’s 2008 novel. And David Edelstein‘s review title, “Indignation Is the Best Philip Roth Film Adaptation By a Mile,” is a sentiment echoed in various ways by other critics as well.

The plot summary on Rotten Tomatoes: “…Indignation takes place in 1951, as Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a brilliant working class Jewish boy from Newark, New Jersey, travels on scholarship to a small, conservative college in Ohio, thus exempting him from being drafted into the Korean War. But once there, Marcus’s growing infatuation with his beautiful classmate Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), and his clashes with the college’s imposing Dean, Hawes Caudwell (Tracy Letts), put his and his family’s best laid plans to the ultimate test.”

Some family background, per David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: “Back in Newark, funerals for local boys are fueling the spiraling anxieties of Marcus’ father, Max (Danny Burstein). ‘The tiniest mistake can have consequences,’ he says, fearing that his straight-A student son will be led astray in pool halls and gambling dens. Max’s paranoia is scaring his levelheaded wife Esther (Linda Emond) and pushing Marcus away.”

Sexually inexperienced, Marcus is at first conflicted about his attraction to the more open and emotionally fragile Olivia. Stephen Holden, New York Times:

After a separation, they warily reconnect, and Olivia, who has scars on her wrist, confesses to Marcus that she had a breakdown and attempted suicide. In Ms. Gadon’s sensitive performance, you can feel the vulnerability just beneath the surface of her apparent poise. Marcus isn’t worldly enough to understand fully the implications of her instability. But when Esther visits and meets Olivia, she immediately notices and pleads with her son to discontinue the relationship.

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: “Very much a character-driven film, ‘Indignation’ focuses on its young protagonists as they movingly attempt to determine who they are both as individuals and as a possible couple.”

The movie’s 15-minute “grueling centerpiece,” according to Edelstein (Vulture) (and others), is the one “in which Marcus is summoned to meet Dean Caudwell [Tracy Letts] and finds himself literally — and, folks, I’m not misusing that word — fighting to hold his insides together…Caudwell is the embodiment of right-wing, Christian authority and its penchant for hypocrisy (the charge against Marcus is a refusal to compromise), and Marcus’s attempts to assert religious and philosophical independence only tighten his own noose. Caudwell leaves Marcus in ruins while barely raising his voice.”

You can see the trailer below:

Selected Reviews

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “’Indignation’ might be dismissed as a small, exquisite period piece, but it is so precisely rendered that it gets deeply under your skin. There are a lot of words, and every one counts. You feel the social pressures bearing down on characters who, in accordance with the reticence of the times, tend to withhold their emotions and suffer in silence.”

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “…(T)he story and treatment keep inviting us to circle back to it and wonder what the characters might have done here or should have done there. Like the best wines and the best films, there’s a complexity to the finish, so that it reverberates with meanings beyond the obvious. ‘Indignation’ has the disconcerting quality of truth and is an altogether adult piece of work.”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “The beauty of ‘Indignation’ can be found in how it builds, growing from a garden-variety coming-of-age story into a poetic, even prayerful, meditation on the pitiless vagaries of character and regret. Thoughtful and reserved, perhaps even to a fault, ‘Indignation’ winds up packing a wallop far greater than its modest parts might suggest.”

Oct 12

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”: Plus, “Someday This Pain…”

Two new movies, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, have both been adapted from novels about adolescent males whose life experiences lead them to therapy.

I. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the only one of the two that I’ve seen, is adapted from the 1999 novel by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the screenplay.

It’s the early 1990’s in Pittsburgh. Logan Lerman plays “wallflower” and high-school freshman Charlie, who’s just been in “the hospital.” As described by Richard Corliss in Time, Charlie is “a tender soul scraped raw by the sudden deaths of his best friend Michael — ‘Oh, he shot himself last May; kind of wish he’d left a note’ — and, in a car crash, his beloved Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey, seen in flashbacks).”

The first to finally welcome Charlie into a clique, a group of seniors one of them calls “the Island of Misfit Toys,” is Patrick (Ezra Miller), a gay youth who, as Corliss states, “is also deep in trauma time” related to his secret relationship with a football player.

A couple girls in the group provide love-trianglish dynamics. Patrick’s half-sister Sam (Emma Watson) catches Charlie’s fancy; she, however, is drawn romantically to someone else. Meanwhile, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) manages to pull Charlie into his first dating relationship—one that’s not really right for him. And he’s poorly equipped to handle that.

About the overall mood of the film, David Edelstein, New York Magazine, asks: “Has there ever been a time when you were among friends and felt as if you truly belonged, yet were aware at the same instant that the joy was fleeting and you’d soon be alone—and that the pain of loss would be almost as intense as the bliss?” Similarly, about Charlie finding his social group: “It’s magic—but every emotion, happy and sad, is so heavy.”

The trailer for The Perks of Being a Wallflower:

A highly significant turning point occurs when Charlie gets ostracized for kissing Sam and breaking up with Mary Elizabeth.

No spoilers here—there’s a worthy and realistic twist.

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: “The movie confirms one of my convictions: If you are too popular in high school, you may become so fond of the feeling that you never find out who you really are.”

Being not so popular, in other words, is more likely to lead you to an examined life.

II. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

Unlike WallflowerSomeday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, another film adapted from a celebrated novel (by Peter Cameron), has been widely panned.

In this film the young male protagonist is gay. According to IMDB, viewers see “…an intimate inside view of James as he works through his life at the therapy sessions which his parents insist he goes to. We learn about James’s past and present through the stories he tells and his recounting of previous therapy sessions.”

In the following trailer, you’ll see James (Toby Regbo) with the “life coach” (who’s actually a shrink) played by Lucy Liu.

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News: “His pain may be useful to James someday, but to viewers, it’s annoying right here and now.”