American Pastoral, C-
Rated R, 108 minutes
Philip Roth's acclaimed, Pulitzer-Prize winning novel "American Pastoral" was a soul-searching portrait of the loss of the idyllic American life. The film adaptation, directed by and starring Ewan McGregor ("August: Osage County") fails to capture that essence, with an odd, uneven tone and lack of emotional backbone that will not resonate with viewers.
Seymour Swede Levov (McGregor) is a once legendary high school athlete who is now a successful businessman married to Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), a former beauty queen. When his beloved teenage daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning) disappears after being accused of committing a violent act, Swede dedicates himself to finding her and reuniting his family. What he discovers shakes him to the core, forcing him to look beneath the surface and confront the chaos that is shaping the world around him. Written by John Romano, the dramatically hollow "American Pastoral" has a few compelling moments, but it fails to translate some of the emotional complexities to the screen. This failure is likely due to a couple of things: for one, actor McGregor, in his feature debut as director, seems way over his head here with such heady material, and second, Romano's script changes some key elements of Roth's novel, not to mention it skims the surface of too many important things. The chief flaw is the underwritten character of Merry, in a fine portrayal from Fanning, but whose motivations and bad choices are largely unexplained, and her stutter disappears so quickly it seems just plain gimmicky.
McGregor and Connelly, for their part, do what they can with the material, though Connelly's character may be in the running for one of the worst Mom's of the year award. The first act and initial scenes work best, but then it goes in too many directions in the middle and last act, with a few plot points that do nothing for "Pastoral's" narrative except add additional confusion. The title of Roth's novel is both ironic and symbolic, as this about a family grappling with keeping their family together. This is lost in the movie version of "American Pastoral" under its odd, flat execution that will be a big disappointment to fans of the novel.