Directed By: James Schamus

Starring: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond, Danny Burstein, Ben Rosenfield, Pico Alexander, Philip Ettinger, and Noah Robbins

I'm really enjoying my return to independent film.  The timing couldn't have been better.  As the mainstream box office continues to largely disappoint, arthouse cinemas are here to pick up the pieces of aficionados' dashes hopes, as long as we're willing to indulge indie filmmakers' tendencies to experiment and diverge from the same old formulas.  That proclivity to test the waters is a double-edged sword that defines both the best and worst indies.  Having not read Phillip Roth's novel Indignation, James Schamus's adaptation of the same name proves to be one of those better ones that charts its own path on the big screen.  In fact, it may just be one of my favorite films this year.

The Korean War is raging, and young boys are being drafted to march to their death in this bloody conflict.  Jewish boy Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), the son of kosher butcher Max and his wife Esther (Danny Burstein & Linda Emond), is not one of them.  The first in his family to go to college, he is able to avoid the draft thanks to his post-secondary education plans at Winesburg College, a small school in Ohio.  With his father smothering him and worrying about any and every danger that could come his way, Marcus soon flees his childhood home for the dormitories of Winesburg.  A serious boy, he focuses on his studies and little else.  Loathing the academic requirement to go to chapel as a self-professed atheist and rebuffing the offer to join the school's Jewish fraternity from upperclassman Sonny Cottler (Pico Alexander), Marcus has garnered the unwanted attention of Dean Hawes D. Caudwell (Tracy Letts).  On the bright side, a girl by the name of Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) has caught his eye.  He just has no idea how crazy she is.

Poignant, hilarious, and sensual are just a few of the words I can use to describe longtime producer James Schamus's first time behind the camera in the director's chair for Indignation.  This little indie is a phenomenal movie that really comes out of nowhere and knocks moviegoers' socks off.  This adaptation boasts a visceral yet compelling opening and conclusion.  It features rich, highly stylized dialogue that fuels quite a bit of the film's sharp-witted comedy.  It centers on a sweet, tender romance that never fully blossoms.  Yes, this period piece is excellent all around.  Well written, well directed, and well-acted, Schamus's directorial debut Indignation is undoubtedly one of the best films of 2016 so far and rescues what's been a mostly dull box office this summer.  

The way in which Schamus brings Roth's novel roaring to life on the big screen is quite impressive.  Set in the early 1950s at a small time college, old fashioned is the least I can say to describe the feel and setting Schamus creates.  In a world of courtesy and passive aggressive behaviors, Schamus has a lot of room to create some deliciously entertaining scenes.  He really does so with the film's dialogue.  Carefully crafted diction elevates the screenplay and gives Schamus's cast plenty of meat with which to work throughout the film.  It's most apparent in the interactions between Logan Lerman's Marcus Messner and Tracy Letts's Dean Caudwell.  I could really watch them go at it all day on screen because the dialogue is simply terrific.  The way in which they deliver it is oozes with contempt and a feeling of superiority toward the other thanks to strong comedic chemistry between Lerman and Letts and the measured pace that Schamus keeps as the tension between the two escalates.

The unfulfilled romance in the film is full of passion and sensuality, even in this old fashioned 1950s setting.  For his part as Marcus, Lerman is this insular academic who knows all about the world except how to be part of it.  In his interactions with Olivia, this son of a kosher butcher begins to break out of his self-imposed shell.  For her part as Olivia Hutton, Sarah Gadon offers us an alluring creature.  Scarred by her past, she's a character wearing a superficial mask that conveys a feigned strength externally.  It’s crystal clear that there is only utter fragility beneath the surface thanks to a nuanced performance from Gadon.  A little more enlightened about the world than her on-screen significant other, she’s the life of the party.  Together, Lerman and Gadon make movie magic as this romantic pair of misfits.

A potent blend of romance, comedy, and drama, Indignation is the kind of movie anybody can love.  It serves up a feast of snarky diction alongside tender love.  James Schamus's debut as a director gets a sober rating.  Don't miss this one!