AMERICAN PASTORAL — Review by Susan Granger

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Ewan McGregor has not been successful in adapting Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1997 novel, revolving around a father’s disillusionment with the American Dream when his daughter becomes a terrorist during the social and political turmoil of the late 1960s. But it’s not for lack of trying. Awkwardly bookended by novelist Nathan Zuckerman’s (David Strathairn) visit to his 45th high-school reunion, it’s the story of Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov (McGregor), a Jewish ‘golden boy’ and star athlete, who marries Dawn Dwyer (Jennifer Connelly), an Irish-Catholic beauty queen, and settles into a seemingly bucolic life on a farm in Old Rimrock, a WASPy western New Jersey township. Read on…

Having inherited his father’s glove factory in Newark, Swede is an avowed liberal, employing a work force that is 80% black.

So it’s somewhat inexplicable when his rebellious, Vietnam War-protesting, 16 year-old daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning) becomes radicalized, bombing the local post-office/gas station and killing its proprietor before joining the Weather Underground and disappearing for many years.

Long after his wife’s nervous breakdown, stoic Swede continues to search for Merry, which is why he responds to a mysterious visit from seductive Rita Cohen (Valorie Curry), who claims to have information about her whereabouts.

Nathan Zuckerman is obviously Philip Roth’s alter-ego, and the story is narrated by Swede’s younger brother, Jerry (Rupert Evans). In literature, “pastoral” denotes a rustic technique of reducing life’s complexities into artificial simplicity.

But what screenwriter John Romano and director MacGregor fail to grasp is Roth’s acerbic humor and sarcasm, so the result is shallow and superficial. Historically, Roth’s novels have been difficult to adapt for the screen since they’re so introspective.

It was folly for Ewan McGregor to star in his directorial debut; he needed that ‘third eye’ to guide his choices, including casting the leading man. And his depiction of the Newark riots is woefully inadequate.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “American Pastoral” is a florid, flawed 5, compressed into tawdry melodrama.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.