REVIEW: American Pastoral

19 10 2016

American Pastoral posterWithout any knowledge of the source material, it’s hard to draw a line between novelist Philip Roth’s grandiloquence and the bombast of the film adaptation of “American Pastoral,” the latest attempt to transpose his work on screen. For example, when Ewan McGregor’s Swede Levov drops a patently pretentious line like, “We can live where we want, this is America,” who’s supplying the sincerity? Who’s responsible for the irony? The delivery indicates a mix of both, and it’s unclear (at least to the uninitiated) whether McGregor as director is offering his own commentary on the novel or simply presenting it as written on the page.

John Romano’s script does a decent job at recreating the central generational dynamic at the heart of “American Pastoral.” In conflict-riddled 1968, tensions boil to a head among a nuclear family in rural New Jersey as free-spirited Baby Boomer Merry Levov (Dakota Fanning) rebels against her parents, Swede and Dawn (Jennifer Connelly). A discontent and rabble-rouser from an early age, Merry sets out to disrupt the idyllic outlook held by the jock and the beauty queen from the Greatest Generation. She commits an actual violent act, yes, but the most drastic rupture comes from their shattered contentment and complacency.

Though at times this conflict plays out like a bit of a Living History Museum, McGregor manages to find enough points of resonance to make “American Pastoral” a compelling watch. Well, at least for the first half. The broader, thematic story eventually gets whittled down into a smaller, more intimate psychodrama. The shifted focus might have worked had the film gone deeper into its characters from the beginning. Accepting each person as a human, not just a mouthpiece for a demographic group, proves a little difficult. The contradictions are clear, but like so much else in “American Pastoral,” it is uncertain whether these are designed for mere acknowledgment or full contesting. B-2stars





REVIEW: Tallulah

30 07 2016

Tallulah“Juno” still ranks among the top 10 quoted movies at my house, so it should come as no surprise that the on-screen reunion of that film’s mother-daughter pair (Allison Janney and Ellen Page) in “Tallulah” came as a welcome development. And, even better, the film centers around issues of maternity!

In Sian Heder’s new film, Page stars as the titular character, a nomad who scoops an infant from drugged-up trophy wife Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard) during a babysitting gig. The point of departure for the story provides an intriguing counterpoint to “Juno.” Page claims a child here uninvitedly and receives one in her Oscar-nominated role unwittingly.

There’s a bit of standard police procedural – involving Uzo Aduba as a child services officer! – investigating the victim and plaguing the conscience of the perpetrator. But “Tallulah” is far less about the intrigue of what will happen to the child in question than it is about the issues raised by its presence or absence for the trio of grown women in the film. Amidst some of the tonal and plot issues, raw emotions bubble to the surface as each grapples with the thorny personal issues.

Most moments of duress revolve around the characters’ insecurity over feeling needed by someone else and the overwhelming sensation that they are replaceable – even disposable. It’s often jarring how quickly “Tallulah” can pivot from light-hearted banter to soul-baring confession, but no one pulls it off better than Janney as Margo, the woman unknowingly caught in the middle of Tallulah’s scheme. She navigates a narrow path between assertiveness and apprehension, unsurprisingly finding her bearings with gusto. B-2stars