In 1951, after a strife filled life in Newark New Jersey, living with his Jewish parents and working in his dad’s butcher shop Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) goes away to a Christian college in Ohio. His parents want him to join a Jewish fraternity, but he steadfastly refuses. He moves in with two Jewish roommates and works in the college library. It is there that he meets and falls for Olivia Hutton. (Sarah Gadon) Soon thereafter, he goes out on a date with her. Inexplicably, near the end of the date, Olivia pleasures Marcus sexually in the car. This puts a strain on the relationship, because Marcus isn’t sure why she did what she did. Olivia writes Marcus a letter, explaining that before she came to Ohio, she was an alcoholic, who tried to commit suicide. While trying to digest that information, Marcus also finds himself at odds with the school dean, Dean Caudwell, (Tracy Letts) who has a problem with Marcus’ atheism. After an argument with the dean, Marcus vomits and faints, he has appendicitis. In the hospital, Olivia visits Marcus again, and starts pleasuring him again in the hospital bed, a nurse sees Olivia, but seemingly does not report her behavior.
As Marcus gets ready to leave the hospital, his mother, Esther (Linda Emond) comes to visit. She has shocking news, she wants a divorce from Marcus’ father Max. (Danny Burstein) Esther also meets Oliva and implores Marcus to break up with her. Marcus goes back to college only to find Olivia is gone. What happened to her? Does Marcus ever find her?
This is a semi-autobiographical look at author Phillip Roth’s college life. While sexual repression and religious conformity was commonplace in the 1950’s, I doubt that those issues exist today to the extent that they did in 1951, anti-Semitism will always exist, and this movie doesn’t make a specifically Jewish appeal, it’s more a agnostic’s appeal for freedom from religion. Marcus in fact is disliked by Jews in the college, and dislikes Jews in the college, what he’s experiencing is not anti-Semitism as much as Christian religious conformity. At a time when atheists probably outnumber Christians in this country, I didn’t find anything in this movie particularly relevant to today’s society. Actually, Olivia’s storyline was much more interesting than Marcus’ but Marcus was the main character, so he got most of the attention. The movie seems much too overwrought, the confrontations between Marcus and the dean seem stilted and staged, everything is much too serious, and I don’t think Marcus ever loved Olivia, so it wasn’t much of a romance.
Logan Lerman is a good young actor, but the character he plays isn’t very likeable, so it’s a difficult role for him to play. Similarly, Sarah Godon plays a woman searching for love and acceptance, and replacing that with sexual gratification, but there is no explanation of who or what damaged her psyche, so she remains a one dimensional character. Tracy Letts plays an unlikeable character in a likeable manner, which added to my confusion about this film.
The director is also the writer, in this case that’s a bad thing, because the director won’t edit his own words, and that makes the pacing drag. The performances didn’t stand out, and there were no visual flourishes to speak of.
Indignation: I didn’t dig it.