American Pastoral (2016) Review

american_pastoral

A husband and wife; known for his famed high school athletic abilities and good looks, and her winning of Miss New Jersey believe they have the perfect life and perfect daughter. When she becomes a teenager, she gets involved with radical protests and disappears after being accused of blowing up the local post office and killing the owner. The couple’s once happy life then turns to shambles.

The story here develops a lot of intense and big issues, especially early on. Unfortunately, as the movie progresses, they really don’t do much with it. It instead becomes a typical story of a man who’s trying to find his daughter in the midst of all of this mayhem as his marriage falls apart. Now granted, I never read the book for this, so I have no idea if this is actually how it’s supposed to be. The first half of movie has some pretty intense storytelling, but it falls flat later. The time setting of the late ’60s, and the events circulating in this town are definitely the most engaging parts of the film, but as stated above, it’s only lightly touched upon and gets shoved in the background. While the familial aspects of the story aren’t a turn-off, it’s not what I was hoping to see. Unfortunately, that’s not the only issue. A lot of the characters and the writing feel uneven, the family at hand is hardly developed enough to really get a feel of. The most interesting character, Merry, the teenager daughter, doesn’t get enough development as she should. We get a few statements from her, but not the full spectrum of her mind. Granted, this is told through the eye of a father, while through the voice of the father’s brother (whom is narrating the story). Essentially, the narrative, to me, is what drags the story down from reaching its full potential. It’s a shame that Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut is tarnished by such an uneven script. There’s a lot of great themes and ideas here, but with nowhere to go. McGregor does well with what he can in capturing the raw nature of the time period and the events happening, but really that’s all he could really provide based on the weak script. The cast on the other hand does an amazing job. McGregor not only directs but also stars as the lead. He effectively captures the tiring and distressing ordeal of the character and does make you feel for him and try to get you inside the mind of his character. Jennifer Connolly also delivers in her performance as the lost and distressed wife and mother, but while she delivers, it’s more or less the cliched and expected depiction you would expect (depressed, getting drunk, screaming, blaming the husband, etc.), Connolly doesn’t get much to broaden the character and make us feel for her. Then there is Dakota Fanning, she is really the integral part of the film, and with little screen time she does have, she provides a strong enough performance for viewers to want more of her because you know there is a lot of complexity to the character and sadly Fanning is only able to provide so much, and her portrayal (as well as the young actresses who play her younger self) of a character with a stutter is extremely effective and realistic unlike most stuttering characters that make it look silly and trying too hard.

Ewan McGregor does well with what he can in his directorial debut, but with such a weak and underdeveloped script, it’s impossible for him to reach his full potential, but he shows promise. McGregor as a director, as well as his co-stars salvage what they can with the film, but it’s ultimately a huge missed opportunity to provide something much more raw, dramatic, and intense with the issues at hand.

3/5

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