First Hit: Extremely well-acted, beautifully shot, thoughtful film about a serious young Jewish man exploring love, life, death and his understanding of the truth.
Marcus (Logan Lerman) is from a small New Jersey town where his family owns a small butcher shop. He works in his father store to earn some extra money before he goes off to school. The small college is located in Ohio.
Arriving at his dorm room he finds he's been assigned to room with two other Jewish students in a town and college that has few Jews. These upperclassmen tell him that the college tends to put Jews together for social reasons. Immediately, the audience sees that Marcus’ seriousness and introverted behavior may be in conflict with, at least, one of his roommates.
While studying in the library he sees and is bowled over by Olivia (Sarah Gadon) who is studying a couple tables away. He’s never had a relationship before and finally gets the nerve to ask her out.
His first date takes him extremely out of his comfort zone, while opening him up to feelings he’s never had before. Olivia is open and very direct and tells him about her difficult past. Marcus has never experienced anything like her before and it turns his world upside down.
All the students are required to attend church lectures given by Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) followed by Christian prayer. Marcus is offended by this as he is both Jewish and his developing belief structure doesn’t support a “God”. There are two meetings with the Dean that are phenomenal to watch.
The acting by the actors is both amazing in their characterizations and the content of their discussions. The film is book-ended by scenes of the Korean War and of a rest home, which pull the film together because this film is not just about the budding relationships and coming of age, but about the cycle of life, death, and love.
Lerman was wonderful in this role. He clearly embodied this role and made his struggles the audience’s. Gadon was sublime. When she was on the screen, she was all I could watch. The depth of her struggles and intelligence was obvious. Letts as the Dean was truly amazing. I so enjoyed his logic and conversation twists during the two meetings with Marcus. James Schamus’ writing and direction was outstanding. His interpretation of this Philip Roth novel was great.
Overall: I was totally engaged with this film and story.