Retaining authenticity in adapting Philip Roth novels has often been a problem, as evidenced in “The Human Stain,” “Elegy” and “The Humbling.” So “Indignation” at least has veracity going for it. Set in 1951, this coming-of-age story revolves around industrious Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a working-class Jewish teenager from Newark, New Jersey, who earns a scholarship to a small, Christian college in Ohio, primarily to avoid being drafted and sent to fight in the Korean War. Read om…
The only son of Max (Danny Burstein), a kosher butcher, and his formidable wife Esther (Linda Emond), neurotic Marcus immediately resents being forced to share a dorm room with two other minority/Jewish students (Philip Ettinger, Ben Rosenfield) and refuses to join the only Jewish fraternity.
Then he’s totally bewildered by the casual sexual promiscuity of his WASPy crush, self-destructive Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), who gives him oral sex on their first date after he takes her to dinner at a fancy French restaurant.
The most volatile – and memorable – scene occurs when resolute, rebellious Marcus confronts Winesburg College’s domineering Dean Hawes Caudwell (Tracy Letts) about his pervasive, condescending anti-Semitism, alluding to British philosopher Bertrand Russell’s famous essay, “Why I Am Not a Christian.”
“You are destined to be an outstanding lawyer,” hypocritical Caudwell grimly concedes.
As former CEO and co-founder of Focus Features, James Schamus firmly established his preference for high-quality, arthouse-audience films like “The Ice Storm,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Lost in Translation,” “Far From Heaven” and “A Serious Man.”
Now, making his writing/directing debut, Schamus is obviously besotted by showing how his young adult protagonist encounters and explores the social paranoia of the post-WWII Jewish experience. And Logan Lerman (“Percy Jackson” films, “Fury”) rises to the challenging, deeply-textured role.
But the intense edginess is episodic, adhering to a careful, perhaps overly-cautious rhythm.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Indignation” is an admirable but tedious 6, serving as a tragic reminder of consequences of America’s once-prevalent, puritanical moral conformity.