This post may contain affiliate links and spoilers. Please read our disclosure policy.
Logan Lerman makes the case for himself that as much as he could be just another Hollywood heartthrob, he actually has the acting chops to perhaps follow in the footsteps of Leonardo DiCaprio with time. For alongside Sarah Gadon, who also has a bit of a breakout performance, they present two odd characters who fall in love, but because of misunderstanding, well… read below.
Worth Seeing (Recommended)
Imagery of Self Harm | Mental Illness Stigma
Characters Worth Noting
Olivia (Sarah Gadon) | Marcus (Logan Lerman) | Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts)
Main Storyline (with Commentary)
It’s the 1950s and a young renounced Jewish boy from Newark, Marcus, uproots his life and goes to college in Ohio at Winesburg College. A place rooted in faith to the point there is a practically mandatory attendance weekly at the school’s chapel. But at least Marcus can get away from his overbearing father, right? But while he, at first, gets along with his roommates, he doesn’t really have a life. He doesn’t make real friends, even though the local Greek Jewish organization tries to recruit him to their frat, but one girl does catch his eye. Said girl, Olivia, is very much unlike the girls Marcus is used to. She is “experienced,” looks at Marcus with intent interest, and is also a bit troubled.
But while Olivia is mysterious, loveable, and complex, Dean Caudwell is just a pain in the ass. He challenges Marcus’ thinking, and not in a productive way. They bump heads in ways that lead you to questions who is more of a stubborn ass. Yet, at the same time, no one else of the school’s staff seems to be taking an interest in Marcus, so Dean Caudwell is the only one Marcus can turn to as things in his life go from pleasant, sometimes happy, potentially boring, to worrisome, the stuff which creates anxiety, and perhaps even fear.
For with news from his mother about his father, the dean watching Marcus like a hawk, and some of Olivia’s demons attempting to consume her, the quiet boy who worked in a meat shop with his dad find himself in a predicament almost bad as the Korean war he just barely avoided.
No matter who or what you praise about this movie, Lerman has to be part of the conversation. If you want to praise Gadon who makes Olivia just as much seem like a possible femme fatale as she does the girl you wish you knew in college or high school, you got to put Lerman in the picture. For while Olivia is perhaps the best love interest I have seen in a film like this in ages, since she has her own problems, own interest, and a life outside of Marcus, it is in those moments when they are together you get that special feeling. The type where you are truly envious of these two fictional people and what they have. For while it is obvious both sides have issues, of which sadly we don’t get to the bottom of when it comes to Olivia, you can’t help but love them. Even with the strangeness, at least for how the 1950s is often portrayed, that is Olivia usually beginning or ending her intimate moments with Marcus with playing with his penis. Meaning, before their deep get to know you conversations, she usually initiates a hand job. Which is because she likes him, but even Marcus, as much as he appreciates them, doesn’t understand why she does that.
Transitioning to Lerman and Letts, the scenes between Marcus and Dean Caudwell are long. Arguably, the length of those scenes might be longer than between Marcus and anyone, even maybe Olivia to a point. However, their back and forth sort of highlights Lerman’s versatility. He can be the love interest one minute, and the next an academic, someone who seems like an arrogant ass and can be downright unlikable. Yet, you still want to root for him because his character is written and portrayed as a full-fledged human being. One who isn’t able to fit into this little box which the Dean believes college should be and as much as his rant, or tangent, can get on your nerves and make you dislike him, at the same time, if you are close in age, you feel like he does have a point.
Backtracking to Gadon for a minute, I really do feel like this is the type of movie which could perhaps truly be the start of her breaking out. Her role, while mostly a love interest, is peppered with a story which makes you want to learn more about her – hence the femme fatale comment. Be it her transferring to the college on unfavorable circumstances, this weird relationship with her dad, this party which nearly ended her life, what Marcus’ mother says to her, and a slew of other things, Olivia’s story, dialog, and portrayal by Gadon makes it so you sometimes wish this film was from her point of view and also about her. Just so the mystery could get peeled away.
Honestly, the one thing I can nick pick over, in which reading the book could likely provide the answers to, is the many questions left unanswered when it comes to Olivia and her life, as well as the transition between Marcus’ college life and his life after.