TIFF Review: American Pastoral

Score: C-

Director: Ewan McGregor

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning

Running Time: 126 min

Rated: R


You certainly can’t accuse Ewan McGregor for not challenging himself enough. Not only does the actor make his directorial debut but he also stars in his new film American Pastoral. Based on the novel of the same name by Phillip Roth (a notoriously difficult author to adapt to the screen), American Pastoral is a bland look at the upheaval of one upper middle class family in the suburbs of Newark, NJ in 1960s America.


Having not read a single Phillip Roth novel, American Pastoral did little to sell me on his works. The tale centers around Seymour “Swede” Levov, a former All-American high school superstar turned successful businessman with a beautiful wife (Jennifer Connelly) and daughter, living on an idyllic farm. Everything seems to be going the Swede’s way, that is until the sixties roar into gear and his sweet, sensitive daughter Merry turns into a radical anti-war teen activist (Dakota Fanning). After taking his advice to “bring the war home” a little too literally and blowing up the sleepy town’s post office, Merry disappears, leaving her parents in emotional tatters. Things begin to unravel between the married couple as the country itself reflects their frustrations and anguish.


It’s easy to see what the film is trying to do. But as hard as it clearly tries, American Pastoral feels wooden, not electric. The actors clearly try their hardest but Connally’s emotional outbursts and Fanning’s committed diatribes are too transparent, too obvious in their effort. Never do the Levovs feel like a genuine family and never does McGregor successfully manage to emotionally hook us. As devastating as the film is supposed to be, it never delivers on that promise emotionally. Sure, it’s difficult to watch parents grieve for a missing child and even more difficult when it turns out that child is a stubborn brat, but nothing feels as revolutionary as the film would like you to believe. McGregor is clearly a fan of the source material but I suspect where the novel is subtly brilliant, the film is clunky and boring.


That’s not to say American Pastoral is unwatchable. It’s a fine film with fine performances and fine directing. It has some great supporting work from Uzo Aduba and Valorie Curry. Perhaps it would have been more successful if McGregor lowered the tall order he placed on himself. Either way, American Pastoral, try as hard as it might to break the surface, still sinks with its efforts.


About Katie Anaya

Katie Anaya

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