Monday, April 24, 2017

American Pastoral: There Was Nothing There

Movie Review: American Pastoral (2017)
Version: Library Borrow

American Pastoral is the second strange movie I have seen lately. At least Captain Fantastic seemed to have some reason behind it. American Pastoral seemed senseless.

Here's the way IMDB describes it: "An All-American college star and his beauty queen wife watch their seemingly perfect life fall apart, as their daughter joins the turmoil of '60s America." The film opens as Nathan Zuckerman (played by David Strathairn) reluctantly attends a high school reunion. There, he runs into an old friend he hasn't seen in ages, Jerry Levov, brother to the great All-American legend Swede Levov, whose amazing sports achievements are displayed in the high school hallway. Zukerman finds out Jerry is only there because he is in town for Swede's funeral. From there, Zuckerman functions as the narrator into what turns out to be the turbulent life of a man whose life had been full of sweet promise.

Swede Levov (played by Ewan McGregor, who also directed the film) inherited the very successful glove manufacturing business from his father and turned it into an even greater success. He married a gorgeous beauty queen contestant, Dawn Levov (played by Jennifer Connelly), who made it all the way to the Miss New Jersey finals. They lived in the country with acreage, drove a fine car, and lacked nothing. He was the one man whose life Zuckerman thought was made of dreams. Then they had a daughter, Merry. Merry was beautiful, but developed a problem stuttering. She never grew out of stuttering and a counselor suggested it was a way of dealing with feeling insecure in the face of the beauty of her mother. At one point, Merry (played by Dakota Fanning) wants her father to kiss her. He kisses her on the cheek. She asks him to "really kiss" her. With a smile, he kisses her more firmly on the cheek. "No; kiss me like you kiss Mommy," she says. Swede says, "No!" and drives off furious. Merry is deeply hurt by his rejection. From there, Swede and Dawn's live goes horribly downhill.

Merry can't stand her mother. She rebels against both parents. This film takes place during the anti-war '60s and Merry latches on to the rebelliousness of the times. She leaves home. Swede and Dawn try to bring her home, but Merry leaves again, for good. The rest of the film finds Swede and Dawn drastically searching for her. It's years before Swede finds her, when another young woman shows up to torture him with teases about her whereabouts. It's a totally depressing encounter when he finds her. There is no hope between them

There is nothing socially redeeming about this film. It is a miasma of despair.

Zuckerman's conclusion at the end of the film is that we can be wrong about someone we think we know. And he was totally wrong about the man he thought had everything going for him. And I ask myself, is that really the point of this sad, sad, useless film? What are we to learn from it? Most films give you something to grasp from it, something to learn for the better. There was nothing there.

If this was a diss of the 1960's, it fails to make a cogent point about that era of discord. If it seeks to point out that money and success doesn't bring happiness, it slams the point like hitting a finishing nail with a sledge hammer, overpowering the message with its brutality. If it wants to show that not every happy tale has a happy ending, it slaps us in the face multiple times and shoves our face in the mire of life to make the point.

If you dare see this film, make it a double feature with something uplifting and fun as a followup. I can't recommend it as a standalone.

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