People cry a lot in William Olsson’s “An American Affair.” Every other shot is of someone with tears rolling down their cheeks. Catherine Caswell (Gretchen Moll), whose passing resemblance here with Marilyn Monroe is purely coincidental, cries because she’s been ditched by JFK for whom she’s never been more than one of many. (How did the man find time for his trysts? And wasn’t he supposed to be crippled by a bad back?)
Catherine also cries, though less often, for the son she has lost and for her estranged husband. Graham, the estranged husband in question, cries for his broken marriage, for his dead son, and for the ideals lost in the service of the evil CIA. Adam (Cameron Bright), the pimply adolescent at the center of the story, cries because he’s grounded and can’t visit his voluptuous neighbor and, finally, cries because…but not to give away the utterly predictable ending.
Adam’s mother cries because, oh, who knows? And everybody, including the nuns at Adam’s school, naturally enough cry when Kennedy is assassinated. The only character not crying is the snakelike CIA executive Lucian Carver played by, you know, this guy who’s always CIA or a general or a D.A. Beside crying and because the story takes place in 1963, people also drink a lot and smoke a lot. Whisky flows in vast quantities, and every other shot (including some where people have tears rolling down their cheeks) is of someone holding a Zippo to their own or someone else’s cigarette. So there you are.
You have tears, drinks, smokes and not much else. Especially not acting which is as wooden as the paneling in the houses—Adam’s parents in particular are about as creative as window manikins and Graham, the abandoned husband, not much better. The writing is appalling. Catherine actually tells the CIA guy, “So this is really a chess game you’re playing.” In another scene, she tells Adam that she’s moving away, she doesn’t know where, “as you need to when you reach a certain age and you have to take stock.”
Profound stuff prompting a question from Adam, “So this is a life lesson?” Wow! Everything seems slightly off, like the Baltimore streets purporting to be Georgetown streets with the infamous “Exorcist” stairs on Prospect Street the only authentic actual Georgetown décor.
The bleak November skies, the CIA shenanigans, the Cuban conspiracy that in this telling leads to the Kennedy assassination, the period film and television footage, presumably there to add authenticity, all make up a rather ridiculous tale that we could easily have done without. When the lights came on, I too found myself with a couple of tears rolling down my cheeks for the sheer waste of time.