Though critics swooned for Indignation, they pilloried American Pastoral, even though both movies approached Philip Roth similarly: faithfulness to his dialogue but not to his tone. In Ewan McGregor’s American Pastoral, McGregor himself stars as an affluent, WASPy, New Jersey Jew whose stuttering daughter (Dakota Fanning) gets radicalized during the sixties. Thanks to Daniel Clancy’s production design and Martin Ruhe’s cinematography, the look of the movie is slick and pretty. And so are the actors: typecast as moody, Jennifer Connelly works as the wife, though she is too tall for the part; McGregor, meanwhile, playing an All-American, is too short and occasionally lets his accent slip; Fanning brings to life an angsty, jaundiced teen, but she’s never physically repulsive like in the novel. And what about content? The movie filters the novel’s tragedy through melodrama, thus getting the tone wrong. For example, too often the score makes sad scenes that should have been mordant, wry, or acidic. Add the sanctification of the main character and the implausible ending. These changes seem like attempts to smooth the wrinkles out of the novel, a postmodernistic narrative that’s disjointed and doubtful, a story the point of which is that chaos reigns. The wrinkles are the point, then. A point that McGregor chooses to miss.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White