Ewan McGregor makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel. Starring McGregor, Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning, the drama follows a family growing up in the social upheavals of America in the 1960s and 1970s.
Seymour ‘The Swede’ Levov was a star athlete in school and is now happily married to former Miss New Jersey, Dawn. As well as having a beautiful wife, Swede also successfully runs the glovemaking business previously owned by his father, and has a young daughter named Merry who idolises him.
Merry has a stutter as a child and occasionally acts antisocial. Things go from bad to worse in her teen years when she becomes increasingly disillusioned with what is happening in her country and becomes determined to join the ‘revolution.’ She gets into increasingly more trouble, which has an impact on her parents and community also.
The acting is all good, as is the production design, cinematography and everything else. There are few particularly weak points, although the flashback framing device feels unnecessary, and the narration (which is fortunately eventually abandoned) drags and feels tagged on. But the film also lacks force and endurance.
One feels that McGregor is being very cautious with this being his directorial debut, and one wishes he would just be a little pushier stylistically. Still, there’s potential in the actor/director (as if we didn’t have enough of those) when it comes to creating drama and intensity. Story-wise, he’s picked a good source to supply the narrative of the film, though the problem with this is it it feels just like an adaptation, rather than a work in its own right.
American Pastoral is appropriately named and while its themes of idealism, nostalgia and disillusionment with the American dream have been seen time and time again on the big screen, there’s something particularly poignant about this film now more than ever, when it seems the USA will never be united as one.
There are also some eerily evocative parallels between the students announcing their outrage against the Vietnam war and the outspokenness of today’s Millennials. We can see the past, for example, in Merry’s fury against Lyndon Johnson, in the present. In this way, American Pastoral is rather fortunately timed in its speaking to the current moment, but one must remember, this is also just purely coincidental.