Ewan McGregors take on Philip Roths Pulitzer-winning novel has been critically vilified but its not the first hyped be adapted to baffle fervent literary fans

Everybody is wrong in Philip Roths American Pastoral. They start out incorrect. They underrate those around them and become hopelessly confused. The attributes lives are a mess; they must make a home in the spoils. But then, get parties right is not what living is about regardless, Roth( in the guise of his imaginary alter-ego Nathan Zuckerman) reminds us. Its going them wrong that is living, going them wrong and incorrect and incorrect and then, on careful consideration, getting them wrong again. Thats how we know were alive: were wrong.

All of which should form Ewan McGregors film version of American Pastoral the most pulsatingly alive part of cinema well witness all year. The molding is incorrect. The manipulate is bungled. The tone is off-key. It should at least possess a specific breakneck panache; a car-crash fascination. But no American Pastorals succession of incorrect turns only serves to steer it into a creative cul-de-sac. The outcome, as Variety threw it, is a film as flat and asphyxiated as Philip Roths novel is furious and expansive.

Few columnists have been quite so ill-served by the film industry as Roth, whose ruminative, proselytizing, deeply felt writing style appears to set all forms of traps for the Hollywood scriptwriter. The 1969 adjustment of Goodbye Columbus remains a decent, dogged pass at the material. Since then, the films have verged from the calamitous( Portnoys Complaint, The Human Stain) to the leadenly courteou( The Humbling, Indignation ). So its no surprise that American Pastoral( arguably the finest American fiction of the past 20 years) should become a timid, mithering non-drama, in which McGregor steers himself as the unfortunate Swede Levov, picking his lane through the rubble of late 60 s Newark. Next, presumably, well get an adaptation of I Married a Communist, Roths tale of a fiery Jewish revolutionary who notices himself undone by his celebrity bride. Im tipping Tyler Perry to direct.

Demi Moore in The Scarlet Letter. Photograph: Allstar/ Cinetext/ Buena Vista

Until then, McGregors film must take its place alongside a long roll of cherished works which have been wantonly manhandled by lowbrow film-makers. Truman Capotes bittersweet Breakfast at Tiffanys was instantly realized over as a simper romcom. The Scarlet Letter became a convenient excuse to show Demi Moore in a bathroom. Gullivers Travels was customized to make room for Jack Black.Actually, I have a certain grudging tendernes for all of these madness. In their lumbering, roundabout way, they serve to reaffirm my charity for the books they have tried and failed to pin down.

Also, some bad adjustments are more diverting than others. Back in 2013, Baz Luhrmann was accused of flustering F Scott Fitzgeralds The Great Gatsby for a crass, rowdy party. And yes, fair enough, but is that really so terrible? Given the choice, Id wish my literary classics tackled by an enthusiastic vandal like Luhrmann than the Hollywood equivalent of a fawning, white-gloved footman, or all those solemn pallbearers who carried Harry Potter to the screen. Films are not literature and neednt be treated as such. Narratives necessitate chamber to lope and experiment and find their own direction through a different medium. One of my all-time favorite adjustments, for example, is Adaptation, in which Charlie Kaufman sets out to make a movie out of Susan Orleans The Orchid Thief and gale up shedding himself as the hero and the author herself as a libidinous drug-user who contributes to an internet porn site. Orleans initial action, apparently, is not totally positive.

Which accompanies us to another question. If you comprehensively fuck up an adaptation, what actual impairment does it do? It might be annoying for those who have to sit through it. It may even be irksome for some of those who have cleared it. But by and large these are small and self-contained calamities. The journal itself isnt suffer and the author is most likely sobbing all the way to the bank.

People ask me, Dont you care what theyve done to your work? said James M Cain, the author of Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. I tell them, They havent done anything to my journal. Its right there on the shelf. Or to put it another way , no film has the power to retroactively devastates a volume. If the cinema gets it right, it proves the books greatness. If the cinema gets it incorrect, it attests that the book is unique. Either direction, the book weathers. Either practice, its honour improves. American Pastoral: the Movie looks likely to die a speedy and quiet fatality at the box office. But American Pastorals fine. I can see it right now on my shelf.


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