They sort of snuck this one in late-summer, and no one paid much attention. A few critics did, and it garnered some solid reviews. James Schamus is an award-winning screenwriter, making his feature debut as a director here. Philip Roth is one of our finest novelists, of course, and “Indignation” is based on his novel of the same name. Films based on Roth’s books have been hit-or-miss, however. But, by that barometer, this adaptation is a pretty solid one. I’m not entirely certain that the narrative bookends to this story were necessary, but the one at the finale does add emotional weight. And gorgeous Sarah Gadon impresses mightily.
Marcus Messner (a strong Logan Lerman) is a working-class Jewish student, leaving his Newark, New Jersey roots, to attend college in Ohio. Strict Max is his kosher butcher dad (theatre legend, Danny Burstein) and Esther his observant mom (a very good Linda Edmond). But when Marcus meets Olivia (a superb Sarah Gadon) once away at school, he’s rapidly given a sexual and emotional awakening that he could never have imagined in Jersey. Then their relationship is touched with unforseen turmoil. When this affects Marcus academically, he intellectually spars with his college dean, Hawes Caudwell (excellent Tracy Letts), with Marcus desperately needing to stay in school, and avoid service in the Korean War.
This is a sexually frank film, that always feels real, and never exploitative. Canadian Ms. Gadon made her mark in a trio of David Cronenberg features, and is recently branching out successfully, into a variety of mainstream and independent fare. Logan Lerman comes of age impressively here, as he did high-school style, in 2012’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. And Mr. Lerman’s argumentative discussions with Mr. Letts, is the amongst the most thrilling film scenes of last year. Unfortunately, only the fleshing out of Gadon’s Olivia character seems incomplete. Sarah works wonders with the characterization, but it feels underwritten. And that ultimately softens the final impact just a bit. But I liked “Indignation”, and I’m looking forward to the next time Mr. Schamus positions himself behind the camera.