1951.  A kosher butcher shop in Newark.  A teenage boy helps his Dad, who owns and runs the shop, and father and son form a bond so close that the Dad sometimes has a hard time accepting the fact that his boy is soon going off to college, in Ohio of all places.  Well, his kid got a scholarship, and Dad's proud of that.  So is Mom, and she's also the one who realizes that her son really needs to get out of town in order to truly develop his independence.

            Not that Marcus (Logan Lerman) has any trouble with being independent, anyway.  He doesn't have much social life in high school, even though he's captain of the debate team and also played baseball.  He figures those are already in his past.  Some of his school buddies seem to have nothing better to do than hang out on the street corner, smoking cigarrettes and waiting to get drafted into the Korean War;  a prospect that Marcus intends to avoid with a student deferment.  So it's off to Cleveland we go, where in this small private college there are few other Jewish kids, and Marcus is immediately thrown in as a roommate to a couple of them.  And he is quickly recruited by the only Jewish fraternity on campus.

            But Marcus isn't a joiner.  He's much more of a loner.  He keeps his head down and concentrates on his studies and makes excellent grades.  He asks the serious questions in class.  He occasioinally calls home on the pay phone down the hall, but his conversations with his parents, especially his Dad, grow increasingly more frustrating, because they want to know about his social life, and he doesn't have any.   He just works in the library and studies.  That's it.

            But it's in the library, while studying one day, that he gazes across at a girl who immediately gets his attention.  It's the way she's slung her leg over the chair arm, revealing a shapely calf, but also a certain casualness that offsets her cool beauty.  Marcus is smitten, but not having much experience with girls, he hardly even knows how to approach her.  Eventually, he manages to ask Olivia (Sarah Gadon) on a date, which involves picking her up at the dorm and checking out with the stern-looking Dorm Mother and promising to have her back before curfew.

            He takes her out to the nicest restaurant in town, where he has escargot for the first time.  On the way back, when they realize they have a little time left, she tells him to take the next left, which turns out to be a cemetery.  There, after a first sweet kiss, she decides that she is going to relieve him of some of the, ah, pressure of being a celibate hormonal teenager.  He's flabbergasted by her forward behavior, but also smitten with her personal consideration. 

            She seems to have such a sweet disposition, but it turns out she has a rather dark history of clinical depression.  Their on-again off-again relationship becomes such a central focus for him that he even finds himself dreaming about her, and he's never remembered his dreams before.  But he's too shy to tell her about them.  When he has a sudden attack of appendicitis, she's the one who comes to see him in the infirmary, bringing him flowers and ah, continuing to creatively attend to his needs.

            Yes, it's all too good to be a happily ever after, it's more like a nostalgic moment in time, despite the apparent anti-Semitism, and the off-putting over-reach of the Dean, and the typical difficulty of finding your way when you're young and bright and serious but also a bit rebellious, or at the very least, indignant over perceived solicitude or unchallenged condescension.

            Be on time for the opening scenes, or you'll miss the tie-ins to the closing sequences.  In the middle, you'll find yourself re-living your own going-away-to-college experience, which may or may not have grown fonder in your distant memory.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  What were some of your primary fears in going off to college?  What issues turned out to be more problemmatical?

2)                  Do you think that anti-semitism has become more obvious, or less apparent, in your lifetime?

3)                  Do you think that people with clinical depression can be “cured”?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association