American Pastoral (2016)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.  

/USA, 2016.  , .  Screenplay by , based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film  Editing by

Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is adapted to the big screen by star and director Ewan McGregor, and as is usual with Roth’s work, the results prove him to be better appreciated on the page.  A remarkably unnecessary framing narrative has attend his high school reunion and find out from a former classmate that the star football player he admired so much decades earlier has had quite the life in the years since graduating: “Swede” Levov (McGregor) marries the gorgeous cheerleader () after coming home a war hero, they set up a comfortable life of bourgeois comfort in the countryside and raise a daughter who suffers with a stammer from childhood.  When she reaches her teen years, Merry () is approaching adulthood in the age of counterculture, heavily influenced by anti-Vietnam sentiment and, in that wonderful way that young people have of breaking the world down to very clearly defined binaries, sees her parents as the unwitting enemies of all things good and real.  The couple believe her rebellious attitude is one she will outgrow with time, but that hope becomes dim when the bombing of a local gas station leads to Fanning disappearing and her parents spending years wondering where she is and what responsibility she bears for the crime.  The story takes some dark and fascinating turns and has moments that are riveting, but overall it feels like a rushed and shallow understanding of a story that has much deeper insights in its narrative crevices.  While the novel is generally interpreted as a metaphor for America’s loss of innocence post-Vietnam, McGregor’s adaptation feels more like an angry You Kids Today lecture aimed at clueless teenagers who are destroying the world in the name of saving it.  gives the film’s best performance as a woman who pays a high price for the increased consciousness of those around her.

Toronto International Film Festival:  2016

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