November 3, 2022
Greetings again from the darkness. A soldier’s injuries come in too many types to describe, and we often see the emotional side is every bit as difficult to recover from as a physical injury. PTSD is frequently explored in films, and in Lila Neugebauer’s first feature film, it corresponds to a severe brain injury. Combining on the screenplay were co-writers Ottessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel, and Elizabeth Sanders, and their ‘quiet’ approach works thanks to superb performances from Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry.
We first see a silent Lynsey (Ms. Lawrence) being taken into the care of Sharon (a terrific Jayne Houdyshell). Lynsey rarely speaks and her motor skills are corrupted. Sharon must help her with such mundane movements as picking up a glass of water, brushing her teeth, using the toilet, or even standing. The recovery from a brain injury is long and arduous and never guaranteed, but we flash forward to see Lynsey’s progress and ultimate return to her hometown of New Orleans where her further recovery will occur.
Her mother (Linda Emond) isn’t there to pick Lynsey up from the bus stop, and it’s our first indication of the long-ago disconnect between mother and daughter. Lynsey is determined to recover and be cleared for redeployment. The military was her initial escape from this life, so she’s banking on it happening again. Her goal is to have her neurologist (Stephen McKinley Henderson) sign the waiver, clearing her for active duty. To help her cause, she takes a job cleaning pools, and when her truck’s carburetor dies, Lynsey meets shop owner James (Brian Tyree Henry), and the two quickly establish a friendship.
Lynsey and James are both broken, lonely souls who share the pain that accompanies pasts highlighted by trauma. Neither is quick to discuss, but we soon enough learn about the roadside bombs that got Lynsey, and enough of James’ story to understand why he drinks and smokes and is understanding of her situation. Jennifer Lawrence has an emotional scene with her brother (Russell Harvard), and her scenes with Ms. Emond convey exactly what we need to know, but it’s her scenes with Brian Tyree Henry that showcase the highest standard of grounded acting … characters we believe exist. Although the script shortchanges the struggles involved with recovering from a brain injury, the two actors capture the essence of broken souls in need of this unlikely friendship.
Streaming on AppleTV+ beginning November 4, 2022
WATCH THE TRAILER
August 4, 2016
Greetings again from the darkness. Quite often, Hollywood “period pieces” feel dated and somewhat irrelevant to our world today – as if they were a snapshot from an old magazine. But the best ones transport us to a different era while also serving up themes and characters that are just as interesting and germane today as then … and that’s what we have here.
First time director James Schamus (founder of Focus Features) is an Oscar nominated producer (Brokeback Mountain) and writer (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and he tackles the popular 2008 Philip Roth novel … one that the 83 year old novelist admits to being influenced by his own college years. Mr. Roth has been writing novels for more than 50 years and won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1997 “American Pastoral”.
Taking on the lead role of college-bound Marcus Messner is Logan Lerman … an actor who has been on screen since he was 8 years old, and seems to have the eternal youth DNA so sought after by Ponce de Leon. While his looks haven’t changed much since the “Percy Jackson” films or the excellent The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Lerman shines here as the working class Newark Jewish boy, smothered by his parents, and as naïve to the world as he is academically gifted.
It’s 1951 and too many neighborhood boys are arriving back home in pine boxes after serving in the Korean War. Marcus’ father (Danny Burstein) is a kosher butcher and is half of the hyper-cautious parental unit that is alternatively thankful and frightened that their son is avoiding serving in the military by heading off to ultra-conservative (and fictional) Winesburg College in Ohio.
Once on campus, Marcus discovers little of the hoped-for freedom. Mandatory chapel attendance, roommates assigned via religious leanings, and the expectations of joining the Jewish fraternity and hanging out with his own kind combine to be only a different kind of emotional stifling than what he had at home. A series of events serve to shake up Marcus and his beliefs. Date night with his dream girl from the library ends with him being both repulsed and enchanted by a sexually assertive Olivia (Sarah Gadon). An argument with his lughead roommates ends with his being given the worst dorm room on campus. Meeting with the College Dean (Tracy Letts) results in an exhilarating debate that will surely be treasured by all who adore wordplay and oratory sword-fighting. Finally, an emergency appendectomy brings a hospital visit from Marcus’ mother (Linda Emond), and a conversation that drastically alters the course of his life.
The conservative social mores of the 1950’s are on full display, as is the restlessness of the young who would change society forever. Fear would be replaced with daring, and the film does a terrific job of highlighting how revolution often comes at a high price. Bookended by war scenes that dramatize the fine line between civilized society and the brutality of war, it all comes together … bringing more power and poignancy to the two best scenes: as previously mentioned, Letts and Lerman go mano y mano in arguing the brilliance of Bertrand Russell, and their word battle highlights the age-old idealist vs. real world struggles; a mother-son scene towards the end is as heart-breaking as any we’re likely to see on screen this year. Mr. Letts, Ms. Emond and Ms. Gadon all work well with Logan Lerman in order to provide an excellent presentation of Roth’s novel and Schamus’ first film.
watch the trailer: