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 a 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 stain 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 are bombed, an attack that kills the gas station owner. To the Swede’s horror, Meredith disappears thereafter, leading everyone to suspect that 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 percent freshness. This, by the way, is worse performing than mindless action flicks like London has Fallen and Skiptrace. I foresee this movie making its way into all sorts of “top-10” terrible … … lists over the next few years. It would probably “rank high” too.
The latter is terribly unfortunate to me, because this isn’t an entirely horrid adaptation. That said, 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.
While director / lead Obiwan Kenobi, I mean Ewan McGregor, might be miscast, the rest of the team throws in reasonably spirited performances too. This is particularly so for Valorie Curry, who quite aptly executed a seduction scene that could have so easily slipped into the absurd.
The problem here, in my opinion, is then 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 myself 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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