Veteran producer/Ang Lee collaborator James Schamus makes his feature directing debut with a pitch-perfect adaptation of Philip Roth’s fascinating 2008 novel. Set in Korean War-era 1951, it follows a Jewish New Jersey boy named Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) who leaves home to attend a liberal-arts college in Ohio, where he becomes obsessed with beautiful, troubled Olivia (Sarah Gadon). The notion of fate and unforeseen consequences hangs heavy over the story, which gets a jolt from a revelation which—as in Roth’s book—is dropped almost casually into narration only half-way through. But Messner’s background is just as crucial to the framework of this period piece about a Jew just trying to keep his head down; it almost invokes the Coen brothers as a kind of A Serious Man: The College Years. And while the relationship between Marcus and Olivia provides solid material, the most electrifying sequence involves an extended meeting between Marcus and the college “Dean of Men” (playwright Tracy Letts). Their battle of wills—alternately passive and aggressive—tells the tale of what faces anyone who risks bucking a system that only grudgingly includes them.
Director: James Schamus
Producer: Anthony Bregman, James Schamus and Rodrigo Teixeira
Cast: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond, Ben Rosenfield, Philip Ettinger, Danny Burstein and Noah Robbins