Review: American Pastoral

Talk about boring, American Pastoral is super boring!

American Pastoral follows the story of a father who is looking for answers following his daughter’s disappearance. It all starts when the all-American high school football hero marries his high school sweetheart Miss New Jersey and they start their idyllic lives in the countryside. Becoming successful and generous business-owners, they find themselves struggling to come to terms with their teenage daughter’s anti-corporate and anti-war radicalization that is somewhat reminiscent of Patty Hearst. When the local post office gets blown to smithereens and their daughter disappears, it becomes a race to find answers.

As someone who absolutely loves a good drama – actually, even a mediocre drama will do – this movie fell far, far short. This movie features a lot of devices that fall flat. It tried too hard and tried to do too much. American Pastoral just ended up a big mess in the end that left me begging that the bomb had detonated at our main characters’ home.

For starters, American Pastoral features narration from some man I never quite figured out who he was or why I cared and starts off in the present day for some unknown reason before finally giving us a flashback to the real story. You get the feeling that somehow this will all tie back together in the end. But it doesn’t.

Once everything gets rolling, you begin to realize the narration decision was just the icing on the cake. For some reason, you get slapped with some out of place Freudian exposition and some other faux- provocative scenes that you get the sense were just thrown in to make the movie seem more edgy. The characters also left a lot to be desired. Dakota Fanning gives a lackluster performance, and the writers seemed to have missed the mark on every other character as well. My biggest complaint with the writing is how unrelatable the characters were. Most of them were plain repugnant – and those that had some redeeming qualities ended up losing them by the end of the film. As a result, I just could not find myself caring about any of these peoples’ fate.

The worst part of this movie, however, is that it was just plain boring. When I left, I glanced at my phone expecting almost three hours to have passed since I got into the theater. A two hour runtime isn’t enough to doom a movie, but you could really feel it with this one. The movie is slow, and without caring about any of the characters, it really felt meaningless. What little interest there was led nowhere, and most of the edge was just there for the sake of being edgy. The plotline never really made any sense or led anywhere meaningful.

I left the theater thinking to myself “what was the point? Why did any of this happen? Why did I care?” There were a few creative or beautiful elements but I recommend sparing yourself from this mess.

1 out of 5

What would I have changed? (Spoilers)
Click here to read what I would Change

Johnny Johnny (Contributor) was born and raised in San Diego. He's been a fan of films the majority of his life. He enjoys the feeling it invokes and the power it has to take you to another place. 


Teresa Allen said…
I agreed with most of what you wrote. I always try to read the book, if there is one, before seeing the movie. I started this book , but, did not have time to finish it before seeing the film. I wish I had. From the little I had read, this movie does not follow the book. I was so excited to see Ewan's first directorial debut. . I think he bit off more than he could handle. It was plodding, it had lackluster acting and I did not empathize with any of the characters. I am going to finish the book because I am curious what all was changed for the film. I would recommend this movie to no one.
Elizabeth Parker said…
JK Simmons isn't in this movie ... (re: your spoilers section)

I actually really liked this movie - I did think there were some plot holes, but otherwise I enjoyed it. @Teresa Allen so the book is different, then? I was hoping to read it after this.
Daniel said…
At least this movie gives Dakota Fanning a chance to shine
EL said…
I agree, I love Ewan Mcgregor but this was a an extremely shoddy and disappointing attempt for his directorial debut. To his defense though, Philip Roth novels are extremely hard to do justice to in film. A lot of critics referred to Indignation as the exemplar, proof positive (finally) that it is possible to adapt Roth's work compellingly, but (and because) his work, especially American Pastoral, had been widely considered unadaptable before it (and still so by some). The problem isn't that the film didn't follow the book, on the contrary they (writer and director) remain largely true to the source material, it's that it tries too hard to keep to the written material, probably afraid of diverging too much (and, ironically, ruining the story that way), but seem to do so without acknowledging the complexities and nuances that make the story so compelling. But again, with Roth it is no easy task, and Mcgregor wasn't prepared to take it on. What makes a compelling novel is not always what makes a compelling film, some things just don't translate well. You have to be able to appreciate them as two different pieces of work. Though I don't think that could be applied here. This film really fell short on all ends.
Tom Freeland said…
Depressing movies are fine, as it's well done. I had no sympathy for any of these characters, because they all felt hollow, and as a viewer, you need to be able to connect with them on some level.
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