Longtime screenwriter and producer James Schamus adapts longtime novelist Philip Roth’s novel of love and death and Midwestern collegiate life, and turns what might have been an exercise in mordant mid-century nostalgia into something vital and resonant (as opposed to the trendier, emptier “relevant”). Something that lives and breathes and feels and fights: you don’t have to care about Bertrand Russell’s essay on Why I Am Not a Christian to sympathize with Jewish undergrad Marcus Messner (a fierce yet cuddly Logan Lerman). You just have to know what it feels like to be flailing away at a system that seems thoroughly comfortable with its failure to understand the subtlety and significance of the particular, the internal dramas that shape our lives and set our destinies. (It’s not that Winesburg College is Evil; it’s just that it’s so thoroughly Other.) That includes its view of romantic love, a thing that moves from external to internal with frightening ease (no pun intended). Messner’s affair with a troubled but generous co-ed sets him against not only his chosen institution, but also the one he inherited, and what seems like a simple act of affection sends our hero headlong into the mouth of fate, and ultimately, his eternal reward. (2016) — Matthew Lickona
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