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Review: Jumbled ‘American Pastoral’ an American dud

Adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel proves itself to be unfilmable in Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Philip Roth’s 1997 novel “American Pastoral” has been called unfilmable and, in his directorial debut, Ewan McGregor proves that notion to be correct.

This clunker set against the political unrest of the ’60s and ’70s sputters out of control and leaves no one unscathed. Dakota Fanning gets the worst of it, playing a political revolutionary who yells “black power!” and wears a veil over the bottom half of her face. Watching “Pastoral,” you see why she wants to hide.

McGregor stars as Seymour Masin, a Jewish former star athlete who runs a glove factory in Newark, New Jersey, and is nicknamed “The Swede” for his Scandinavian features. None of those descriptors scream “Ewan McGregor!” so it’s puzzling why the Scottish actor, struggling to bury his native accent, chose to direct himself as the lead in his first movie.

Masin is married to former beauty queen Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), and their picture-perfect world is shattered when daughter Merry (Fanning) takes her teenage rebellion to the extreme and blows up a post office.

Merry’s evolution from door-slamming teen to political radical may have been laid out well in Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winner, but it’s a massive leap here, and “American Pastoral” is further jumbled as she disappears into a dark New York underworld. Similarly, Dawn’s character goes through a transformation that is left off screen, creating a head-spinning effect for audiences struggling to keep up with the hammy emoting.

“American Pastoral” plays like a huge chunk was ripped out of it with no regard for continuity, let alone nuance. But the project was misbegotten from the start. This story is best left on the page.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘American Pastoral’

GRADE: D

Rated R for some strong sexual material, language and brief violent images

Running time: 108 minutes