2016 Awards Profile: ‘Indignation’ by James Schamus

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Welcome to the 2016 Awards Profiles series, where we talk about high and low-profile films coming to a theater near you at some point this year.  We will analyze the potential for these films to be players for the Academy Awards, and while many of these have the potential to be recognized, many will not either by quality or being pushed back to the following year.  For the next eight weeks, we will bring you a film every weekday to talk about their potential.  If you have a suggestion, please include it in the comments below.  If you missed a film, click on the tag or category Awards Profile.

Director: James Schamus

Writer: James Schamus (based on the novel by Philip Roth)

Cast: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts

Synopsis (via IMDb): In 1951, Marcus, a working-class Jewish student from New Jersey, attends a small Ohio college, where he struggles with sexual repression and cultural disaffection, amid the ongoing Korean War.

Why It Might Succeed: Indignation may not be the first title to jump out at you from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but many who saw it call themselves fans. Writer/Director James Schamus would already be an Oscar winner if it weren’t for Crash as he was a producer for Brokeback Mountain, along with nominations as a writer and songwriter for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. After a prolific career producing and writing for over 25 years (mostly for Ang Lee), this is his first time behind the camera directing. If anyone has enough goodwill to break through on a debut, it would be Schamus. However, from the reviews, this is an actor’s movie, especially with how its paired with Schamus’ adaptation of Phil Roth’s novel. According to Roth, this is the most faithful adaptation of one of his works so far.

Logan Lerman came into the spotlight this decade with Percy Jackson and The Perks of a Wallflower but he’s had little opportunity to shine after Fury came and went without flourish. According to the film’s fans, there’s a very impressive 10-minute dialogue sparring scene between himself and acclaimed playwright Tracy Letts (who, after not really acting in much in his career, appears in 6 films this year for some reason). Sarah Gadon is also getting ready to become a household name after appearing in the second Amazing Spider-Man and this year’s 11:22:63 series. Both leads have stellar notices already. If the film is accessible enough, we may have to push aside the polarising but important The Birth of a Nation and look to Indignation as the Sundance film that goes all the way, and staying quiet now will help it not burn out too early. The period East Coast angle and study of sexuality could echo last year’s Brooklyn.

Why It Might Fail: Even so, Brooklyn drove more passion from day 1 and Indignation‘s fans haven’t quite been vocal enough. Saoirse Ronan’s previous successes and career momentum helped put it on the map while Lerman and Gadon are relatively new faces. They don’t get screeners in DVD players. Nor does the name James Schamus. Nostalgia for the 50s may help for the older voters, but this film is not going to be any blockbuster, unlikely to top anymore than $20M. It’s low-key drama, and with little mention of a sense of humour so far, and it doesn’t do anything unconventional enough to stand out.

It’s being distributed by Summit Entertainment who have Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge on their slate this year to focus on which has more potential for its techs. They may have distributed The Hurt Locker and Michael Clayton, but the closest we have since are a nomination each to Prisoners, The Impossible and A Better Life as they’ve been pumping money into failing big-budget YA and religious epics in the past 6 years. The release date is set for July 29 and it’s hard to be remembered even if you release your film on September 29. The biggest obstacle the film has is having a voice loud enough to carry it over 12 months.

Awards Speculation: The techs are a longshot when we know they favour flashier work, or films made by more trusted directors. Brooklyn scored Best Picture, but its lower-budget vision of 1950s New York and Ireland nor the emotional swells of its score could overcome the high budget sheen of nominee placeholder Bridge of Spies. But we can look to the performances and the writing if they get enough attention. Indignation could be another The Diary of a Teenage Girl instead, but Bel Powley was a complete newcomer. If critics embrace Lerman and Gadon they could get the attention they ostensibly deserve. We could also be looking at the film as a lone Best Adapted Screenplay nominee, especially with Roth’s own seal of approval. There’s certainly enough respect surrounding the project to give it at least a fair glance.

Oscar Potential:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director – James Schamus
  • Best Actor – Logan Lerman
  • Best Actress – Sarah Gadon
  • Best Supporting Actor – Tracy Letts
  • Best Adapted Screenplay

Share your thoughts in the comments or on the message forums!

Check out the first official set of
Year-In-Advanced Oscar Predictions
and see where Indignation ranks!