You’d enjoy American Pastoral. If you are willing to forget the award-winning novel it is based on.
American Pastoral Synopsis
Former school athlete star Seymour “Swede” Levov seemingly has the perfect life. After marrying his high school sweetheart, he takes over his family glove making business, manages it successfully, and has a daughter he names Meredith. The only flaw in his life is Meredith’s stuttering problem, though, an issue the Swede is never able to completely come to terms with. As Meredith grows older, she becomes increasingly radicalised by anti-Vietnam War sentiments. One day, the local post office and gas station is bombed, an attack that kills the gas station owner. To the Swede’s horror, Meredith disappears thereafter, leading everyone to suspect she is the culprit behind the heinous bombing.
I thought viewers long accepted the fact that screen adaptations would never match-up to their written originals. Wasn’t the case for American Pastoral the film, as it seems. Short of being branded a disaster, the movie has been labelled as “flat,” “strangled,” “elusive,” and “mediocre.” On Rotten Tomatoes, it currently languishes at 20 per cent freshness. This is worse performing than mindless action flicks like London has Fallen and Skiptrace. I foresee this movie make its way into all sorts of “top-10” terrible … … lists over the next few years.
The latter is terribly unfortunate to me. But I have to agree that stripped of Nate Zuckerman’s blighting narrative, the story is reduced to no more than mawkish family melodrama, one set in an era that even Non-Americans are no longer fascinated by. Yet this doesn’t mean American Pastoral is wholly dreary or unwatchable. While director / lead Obiwan Kenobi, I mean Ewan McGregor, might be miscast, the rest of the team throws in reasonably spirited performances. This is particularly so for Valorie Curry, who quite aptly executed a seduction scene that could have so easily slipped into being absurd.
The problem here, in my opinion, is really a matter of expectations. How do you capture the essence of a masterpiece that is in reality a highly personalised, scathing critique? How do you make those opinions watchable and engrossing at the same time?
Personally, I don’t think it’s doable. I suspect many top directors would agree. Dear Sir Kenobi’s mistake, was to attempt such an impossibly feat for his directorial debut.
PS: As a literary “masterpiece,” I suspect most people would have different interpretations of the lines-between-the-lines of American Pastoral. I personally felt Zuckerman was an unreliable narrator, with his reconstruction of the Swede’s tragedy peppered by his own scorn and disdain for the stereotype of the perfect American Jewish son. Other readers are likely to have contrasting opinions, some perhaps the polar opposite of mine. None of these readings could be easily translated to screen, if at all possible. To me, that’s why screen adaptations of literature gems are almost bound to be contentious.
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