To the critics who expected the film “American Pastoral” to be an indie, art house reflection of Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, brimming with themes of celebrity, fantasy, Judaism, the tension and darkness of the Sixties and the American Dream — think again. This movie is a big-ticket drama with a star-pocked cast, whose efforts were fully displayed on Wednesday night at the Museum of Modern Art, which hosted a screening of the newly released adaptation with Lionsgate, Bloomberg Pursuits and The Cinema Society.
The narrative follows beloved New Jersey legend Swede Levov, played by Ewan McGregor, who made his very talked-about debut directing this film. He and Jennifer Connelly, in the role of his wife Dawn, struggle with their stuttering daughter Merry who breaks out of idyllic suburban life to join extremist bombers protesting the Vietnam War.
McGregor and Fanning worked the red carpet pre-viewing, along with Uzo Aduba, who gave an electric performance as Vicky, the foreman of Levov’s glove factory.
But actors weren’t the only ones in attendance. Writer John Romano, who was tasked with transforming the book into an easy-to-digest Hollywood story, also paced the length of the entrance to the theater. When asked about the mixed reception with which the film has been met, Romano said he expected it.
“It’s a powerful movie, and I’m not sure that critics are always comfortable with being made to feel,” he said. “I thought the reviews also reflected a certain nostalgia for the Sixties, in some ways. Not wanting to hear the truth.”
Most of those who thought the movie didn’t do the book justice might not have considered the extractions Romano had to make, he added.
“You have to choose what’s the emotional, cinematic center of the novel, and then things that don’t adhere to that won’t make it onto the screen,” Romano said. “And that can be very painful. We’re telling one, powerful story about a family that’s hit hard when their daughter turns to violence. Everything that didn’t belong to that theme, I had to leave behind.”
Meanwhile, Fanning and McGregor embraced one another, laughing and smiling while the shooters snapped away.
Did they get very close during the filming?
“We didn’t really have that much time together,” Fanning said. “Everyone’s been saying, ‘You guys have such natural chemistry,’ Ewan likes to say, ‘But it’s also acting.’ That’s your job, to look like you have chemistry with people. We did get along very well, though.”
To become the volatile and disenchanted Merry, Fanning said her process involved a lot of “daydreaming” and “imagination.”
For Aduba, getting into character meant getting familiar with music from the era. But the “Orange Is the New Black” actress also noted that the story was relevant to issues of today.
“I was listening specifically to Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On?’” she said. “But, really, a lot of the work that I was doing was turning on the news.
“People are rioting, people are demanding more from themselves, and they’re feeling up against a system that’s not seeing them for all that they are,” she added. “And I don’t think a truer time has existed since the Sixties. We’re seeing that same cry for justice.”
Following the screening, attendees trooped to the after party at American Cut on 56th Street and Park Avenue, where servers held gleaming platters of tequila cocktails, glasses of wine and squares of Reuben sandwiches.
Fanning flopped right into a booth in the backroom, and Kristen Stewart followed shortly thereafter, with St. Vincent in tow. Stewart, sporting bleach-blond hair and shiny red lips, draped one arm lovingly over the singer and held her hand, then jumped up to greet another guest while St. Vincent remained seated, waiting patiently.
So, Fanning — what was the takeaway for the film?
“It’s about how we judge other people and how we’re wrong most of the time,” she said. “There’s a line in the novel and in the film and I’m kind of misquoting it, but that’s what it’s about.”