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Stars: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond, Noah Robbins, Ben Rosenfield, Danny Burstein

Director: James Schamus

It's an odd thing to say but, for long stretches of this distinctly static film, I couldn't decide whether it was moving or boring. I guess the answer has to be that there were moments of both emotions in the film that engendered such contrasting reactions.

Marcus Messner (Lerman) is a straight-A atheist student of Jewish parentage (his father is a kosher butcher), bound for college in 1951, a step that automatically ensures he by-passes military service in Korea. Close to his mother (Emond) but recently alienated from his father (Burstein), Marcus fails to get along with his (admittedly annoying) roommates, two Jewish youths selected as such by the college authorities.

Soon Marcus has shifted to a room of his own, a move that irritates the straitlaced Dean (Letts), who submits Marcus to a lengthy grilling over it.

Marcus also finds himself attracted to ethereal blonde Olivia (Gadon), unfortunately a brittle, fragile being with a history of alcoholism and attempted suicide. Taking Marcus aback by performing sexual favours he hadn't asked for, especially as he lies in bed after an appendectomy, Olivia is a destructive angel for them both.

Nonetheless, the meeting between Marcus and the Dean is in some ways the focal point of the film, but it's not quite perceptively enough written to compensate for its length, even if the acting, though slightly artificial here and in other scenes, is at times deeply affecting, especially from Emond as Marcus' strong-willed mother, who deservedly gets the best speech in the film.

Dreadful title, by the way, even if it is the same as Philip Roth's original novel, on which this challenging film is based.

David Quinlan

USA 2015. UK Distributor: Vertigo. Technicolor.
110 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 14 Nov 2016