American Pastoral (2016)

American Pastoral
Director: Ewan McGregor
Writer: John Romano
Based on: Philip Roth‘s novel
Cast: Ewan McGregorJennifer ConnellyDakota FanningPeter RiegertRupert EvansUzo AdubaMolly ParkerValorie CurryDavid Strathairn
Seen on: 21.4.2017

Swede (Ewan McGregror) and Dawn (Jenniger Connelly) have pretty much the perfect 50s life: he is successful, she is beautiful and they married out of love, of course. Their daughter Merry finally completed their life, despite her stutter. But now Merry (Dakota Fanning) is a teenager and she’s rebelling against everything. Swede and Dawn find out just how much she’s rebelling when they’re confronted with the suspicion that Merry was involved in a bombing that ended fatally. Merry herself disappears and Dawn and Swede are left desperately trying to piece together what happened to her.

Given that American Pastoral was based on a Roth novel, I didn’t set my hopes for the film too high, but in a moment of weakness prompted by McGregor’s prettiness, I decided to watch it anyway. I shouldn’t have bothered.

McGregor does a decent job as the director of the film, especially for a first-time director. The cast is strong and delivers all around. The story itself is also pretty interesting and could have been really captivating. But unfortunately not in the way things were presented.

That starts with the framing that centers Swede’s perspective and leaves the most interesting perspective of the story untouched – the daughter’s view of things. It almost feels like Roth can only write from the perspective of an older Jewish man because I see literally no other reason why he would focus on this perspective here. To be fair, though, I haven’t read the book and maybe there it’s completely different, but I doubt it. So instead of the story about how a young girl who grew up in apparently perfect circumstances decides to go an blow people up, we get the story of how much she hurt her daddy with her actions.

Additionally we get some armchair psychologization that feels like the writers read a little Freud, thinking they understood him but actually didn’t. This leads to a scene where an adolescent Merry asks her father to kiss her which is creepy in so many ways (especially when you think about how Roth’s stuff involves an older guy with a way too young girl much more than is comfortable). And ultimately it feels like the “insight” the film gives into Merry is that she hates her mum and has daddy issues and that’s why she went rebelling which sells everybody short, but especially Merry.

I don’t know if that (and a couple of other confusing things) are the fault of the book or of the script and I don’t really care. It just means that we got to see a film that left the most interesting things out and is pretty misogynistic to boot. And that is a thing I can very much live without.

Summarizing: Pass.


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