Young males are terribly stupid creatures. So much testosterone and semen and peer pressure create for an incredibly sticky, sweaty few years. Good novels are celebrated as classics for displaying the angst, erections, and inadvertently life ruining years between sprouting pubic hair and opening an IRA. The qualities I search for in these stories has changed vastly in the decade and a half since I started my dive into the genre, but my enjoyment of understanding the hellscape that is adolescence has remained intrigued. Two movies arrive this year adapted from two such novels from well regarded writers: Indignation by Philip Roth and The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. Recent readings of these novellas has left me intrigued at the possibilities awaiting the cinematic releases
by Philip Roth
Movie: directed and written by James Schamus
Book: 4.25 out of 5 stars
Philip Roth has had a slew of his books adapted for the screen in the past decade. The Humbling got Pacino; The Dying Animal got Kingsley and Cruz; and The Human Stain got Kidman and Hopkins. This year, we are still awaiting American Pastoral’s release from debut director Ewan McGregor. His writing attracts the big names, but the movies tend to underwhelm, both critically and at the box office.
Where American Pastoral won the Pulitzer in 1997, the much lower key and shorter Indignation is far less known. Barely over 200 pages in length, this brief read is filled to bursting with its title’s quality: indignation (anger or annoyance provoked by what is perceived as unfair treatment). Marcus, played by Logan Lerman in the movie, is a freshman who transfers from his local college to a rural Ohio university to avoid the excessive attention from his butcher father. Determined to make his impact as a straight-A student, Marcus clashes with a homosexual roommate (the lovely Ben Rosenfield), multiple fraternities, the dean of men (playwright and stage actor Tracy Letts), and the threat of Korean War draft boards. Along with his male led stress, the inexperienced boy discovers his first dating experience and sexual encounter with Olivia Hutton (Canadian actress Sarah Gadon). Told in retrospective anger, Marcus recounts the first years of adulthood with self-righteous pain.
James Schamus, who has written and produced with Ang Lee through most of his career, takes the duty of both adapting the screenplay and directing the movie. Though this is his feature debut as a director, he has taken part in authoring The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and Lust Caution. Though his track record also include Hulk and Taking Woodstock, the early 50s drama seems like a much more apt piece for this man. Lerman, who repeated finds himself as a standout with debut directors (Stephen Chbosky in The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and with subpar material (the oh so very lacking Fury), should be a fine fit for the overly assured Marcus, permitting the director to focus on the cohesion of his own script.
Overly aggressive and easily hateable, I don’t see this movie being much of a hit. Maybe a big push from Ang Lee fans will land some independent prizes, but I foresee this one being a bit of a financial flop. Though Lerman is a rising talent, he is not known to attract a crowd. Currently, the film is scheduled for July 29 release.
The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes
Movie: dir. Ritesh Batra; written by Nick Payne
Book: 4.5 out of 5 stars
On the significantly less self-aware side of male adolescence, we approach the release of The Sense of an Ending, the Man Booker Prize winning novel by Julian Barnes. Though little discussion of this adaptation has arisen, long awaited Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling’s role as the older incarnation of a former lover brought the movie to my attention. Though I’ve owned the book for over a year–you can find them used for barely anything–the novel had never sparked my immediate need to read it. Film releases do provide major pushes up the reading list.
Told in retrospect of a man reliving his youth and early adulthood, British youth Tony Webster recounts his frivolous existence from a disinterested high schooler to a selfish college man. He stumbles through school and college and relationships with little thought as to where his actions lead. Amid losing his girlfriend Veronica due to his own actions who later shacks up with his high school pal Adrian, Tony lashes out and ruins his friendship. Years later, now a senior Tony realizes the mindless actions of his youth have further reaching results than he could have anticipated.
Directed by Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox) and adapting by British television screenwriter Nick Payne, the highlight of this awards bait release will be the seasoned elders and their up-and-coming young stars. Taking the position of older Tony and Veronica are Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling. Much of the juicier material lands in the later portions of the book, particularly when Veronica forces Tony to face the folly of his youth. The younger versions of themselves, though more melodramatic leaning than anything, are performed by young actors I anticipate we will still know. Young Tony is played by Billy Howle who will also be seen with Saoirse Ronan in the upcoming adaptation of Chekov’s The Seagull. Though not explicitly listed, Adrian is likely to be presented by Joe Alwyn. I expect his career to take off after this year; besides his part in Sense, he will star as the title character in Ang Lee’s upcoming Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Young Veronica is played by Freya Mavor, who may have numerous British credits but has not had much impact on US audiences. Sprinkle in UK favorites Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) and Emily Mortimer (The Newsroom), and the cast is quite exceptional.
With a cerebral inspection of past actions, the novel became a big hit among critics and readers, leading it to become a bestseller in 2011. Its brief length of 163 pages will require extrapolation of its dense plot. The inexperienced director and writer leave some room for concern, but The Lunchbox was well reviewed, and hopefully this work has been a passion project of these men for years. Rampling and Broadbent are no slackers though, so we can expect great things from them. Let’s hope that this celebrated work receives a celebrated adaptation on its way to the cinema.