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dir-scr James Schamus
prd Anthony Bregman, James Schamus, Rodrigo Teixeira
with Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond, Danny Burstein, Pico Alexander, Ben Rosenfield, Philip Ettinger, Noah Robbins, Richard Topol, Joanne Baron, Susan Varon
release UK Jun.16 slf, US 29.Jul.16
GOodnight kiss: Lerman and Gadon
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
BERLIN FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Based on the Philip Roth novel, this tightly controlled film is an intriguing directing debut for writer-producer James Schamus. It certainly doesn't mirror the more free-spirited earthiness of his usual collaborator Ang Lee; this is a blackly pointed drama with intense characters whose actions carry punchy consequences. Which is the story's central theme.
In 1951 New Jersey, Marcus (Lerman) is leaving home for university in Ohio, causing serious concern for his parents (Emond and Burstein), who are watching other teens make terrible mistakes with their lives, not to mention the young soldiers dying in the Korean War. Marcus is a serious, focussed young man, feeling oppressed because everyone is telling him how to live, from his goofy roommates (Rosenfield and Ettinger) and the Jewish frat-house leader (Alexander) to the university's dean (Letts). Then he falls for Olivia (Gadon), who continually catches him off guard.
The film is largely made up of meaty conversations as the characters debate belief systems, challenging everything from Marcus' atheism to his choice of a girlfriend. The centrepiece is a 15-minute argument in which Lerman and Letts trade a series of astonishing verbal bombs before things explode in several unexpected ways. Both in his writing and directing, Schamus keeps everything tightly wound, echoing a happy decade when big issues were violently churning underneath a too-calm surface.
The performances are similar. The film is beautifully anchored by Lerman, who breaks away from the stereotypical portrayal of a Jewish academic. He's soft and earnest, even as his prickly opinions feel fully formed. This makes him both likeable and fascinating, and also somewhat unpredictable as he overreacts to almost everything people say to him. Scenes with Gadon and Emond are especially powerful, adding an emotional layer that's lacking in his more lacerating interaction with Letts.
With impeccable production design, sets, costumes, music and cinematography, the film looks simply gorgeous. Thankfully, it remains centred on Marcus' journey rather than the big ideas. It's all rather dark; the tone is set with a prologue that touches on the way the full range of life experiences lead us all to the same inescapable conclusion. And the title isn't an accident, cynically reminding the viewer that almost nothing about life is easy. But it's beautifully observed and deeply thoughtful.
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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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