An American classic (the novel by Philip Roth was awarded a Pulitzer Prize) telling the tale of the seeming all-American family. Pull back the curtains and you get more dysfunction than you can shake a stick at. Perfect subject matter for a film. Perfect material for the likes of Ewan McGregor and Jennifer Connelly to sink their teeth into. Also, McGregor selected it as the first film he would direct.
In post World War II, the United States was still trying to refind its rhythm. Different types of pressures crop up for families – parents and children alike. Everyone is trying to regain or reidentify their roles in a world which has undergone great changes and looks to be taking on more.
Seymour Levov (Ewan McGregor – Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge!) or Swede as he is called, was an all-American football star in high school. He married the beauty queen, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly – Requiem for a Dream, Alita: Battle Angel). Swede took over his father’s glove factory business and the Levovs lived a comfortable life in the Jersey countryside. They had one daughter, who they named Merry (Dakota Fanning – I Am Sam, Coraline), a doted on little girl.
Life was going swimmingly until their daughter became a teenager. At that point her political beliefs began to show the cracks in this particular family’s fabric. The Levovs had always been fairly Conservative with some Liberal leanings. Merry, who is anti everything about the American government, becomes a vocal activist with a violent side.
Though there is no denying that Ewan McGregor is a talented guy as proven over the course of his lengthy and varied career, I am not sure he was the right choice to direct this film. His acting performance was fine, but the way he told the story indicated a lack of attachment to the material. Because he is not American? Because he is not Jewish? Maybe. Whatever the reason there was a gap between the story and the man leading the troops.
Not all the fault for the weaknesses in this big screen adaptation of a great book can be heaped upon McGregor’s shoulders, though. Part of the problem is the screenplay by John Romano (The Lincoln Lawyer, Intolerable Cruelty). An experienced writer, who is American and actually from New Jersey. That did not seem to work in his favour in this instance, however. His adaptation of Roth’s story seems to lack a certain sensitivity towards his characters and what was going on in the United States at the time. In his defence, the 60s in the U.S. was a complex time.
It was a time of racial strife and the Vietnam War. The time was topsy turvy for most Americans. Not sure if the film really links this with the rising anti-semitism and activism which is happening. Seperation between the generations seemed to grow exponentially. Neither understanding the other.
What the film does do well is how the parents dealt with their beloved daughter going completely off the rails. One goes a little coocoo while the other hides his grief behind stoicism. How else would you deal with a child doing something unimaginable? We would all shut it out in different ways. Yet somehow, onscreen it is not as gut wrenching as I would have imagined. Strange. Probably because in film you are not afforded the subtext you can achieve on the page.
-Audio Commentary by Ewan McGregor
-“American Pastoral: Adapting an American Classic”
-“Making the American Dream”