Saturday, 19 November 2016

Review: American Pastoral

American Pastoral
Cert: 15 / 108 mins / Dir. Ewan McGregor / Trailer

Occasionally, you'll watch a two-minute trailer and think 'oh, that looks interesting, I wonder what it's actually about?'. Occasionally you'll watch the two-hour film that the trailer was promoting and end up asking yourself the same question.

Ewan McGregor directs and stars in this adaptation of the Philip Roth novel of the same name, about a Jewish/Catholic family in Newark, New Jersey, during the 1950s and 60s. The standard tumultuousness os family life is punctuated (indeed punctured) by social and political events of the era, coming to a head when the teenage daughter of the family (Dakota Fanning) becomes involved in a political movement and disappears, much to the disquiet of her parents (Ewan McGregor and Jennifer Connelly).

Spanning a couple of decades (more if you include the modern-setting framing device and narration) key points in modern American history are used to denote the passage of time (as well as McGregor's haircut), which could possibly be a stumbling block for viewers outside the US. By which I mean me. By which I mean, I'm aware of all that stuff happening, but not all of the exact years or even the exact order, so my brain was constantly sidetracked in trying to pinpoint the page on the calendar when I should just have been looking at Ewan's hair. Like some sort of dramatic merry-go-round, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning and Ewan McGregor each get their chance to gleefully overact before the screenplay has allowed them time to lay the sufficient groundwork.

Like its predecessor*1, the film dissects The American Dream™ with curious but unceremonious precision. Also like its forebear, I think for that to work well, the viewer has to be on the start-line from the beginning. Again, I like to think I'm reasonably familiar with Americana, but I just couldn't jump the cultural gap to get the most out of this (and in that respect, fair play to McGregor for helming the project in the first place). Ultimately, I'm not sure what it's meant to be. Earnest family drama, or quasi-political mystery? Because while each side is intriguing here, they certainly don't sit together well.

American Pastoral is, to be brutally fair, an interesting mess. As if two jigsaws featuring the same scene but with differently cut pieces have been dropped onto the floor together and we get to watch McGregor on his hands and knees, scrabbling against the clock to assemble a whole picture.

An unwieldy analogy which the film has earned.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
It reminded me a little bit of Capote.
Which I also couldn't get on with

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
It'll be just as uninspiring on DVD, I reckon.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Without reading the novel (and let's face it, I don't have that amount of free time), I couldn't really say.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Well, In the period-setting, McGregor's American accent is every bit as shaky as the cast's 'aged' prosthetics in the modern-set bookends..

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Probably not.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Definitely not.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This film's got Obi-Wan Kenobi in it.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Of the ones I've reviewed online, here's my ranking of the entries in this series, from best to worst:
American Ultra
American Pie Reunion
American Hustle
American Pastoral
American Honey
American Sniper
The best part is, I suppose, that you can watch them in any order. The timeline is all over the place and there's almost no narrative continuity.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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