An American Affair, originally given the oof-worthy title Boy of Pigs, is only now being released, though it was filmed in 2006. As its story about the developing friendship between a 13-year-old Washington kid and his hot, very grown-up neighbor in 1963 unfolds, it seems conceivable that the film was finally allowed to see daylight thanks to the inexplicable lauding of its narrative cousin, The Reader. Both films involve controversial periods of history, government secrets, and, more prominent, the icky relationship between a horny kid and his old-enough-to-know-better crush.
Score one for William Olsson’s debut, however: When American Affair’s young Adam (Cameron Bright) puts the moves on Marilyn Monroe stand-in Catherine Caswell (Gretchen Mol), she doesn’t let him get too far before hissing, “Get out, you little shit.” Words I wished I’d heard from Hanna Schmitz! (But then would Kate have her Oscar?)
Unfortunately, just because Olsson’s film skips the sex doesn’t mean it ditches the sentimentality. Freshman feature writer Alex Metcalf’s script is seldom anything but ludicrous. Adam, the son of apparently well-heeled journalists (absurdity No. 1), is a dour ass, acting like a prick to his private-school friends and pushing past first base with a sweet girl who was more than willing to let him put his tongue down her throat. His parents (played with an insufferable combination of stiffness and bemusement by Noah Wyle and Perrey Reeves) don’t bother to keep their jokes quiet when they know he’s jerking off in the bathroom. So it’s a great day when Adam talks his way into Catherine’s life after catching her sitting open-robed in her window, offering to do chores so he can save up for a nonexistent trip. He’ll soon find out that she’s an artist, a mistress of JFK’s, and bad news: “She’s different than we are, Adam!” his mom crows. “She doesn’t care about the same things!”
Whatever that means. Adam doesn’t know, either, so he continues to spy, a skill he’s shockingly good at: Not only does Adam follow Catherine all around D.C., he also eavesdrops on the CIA agents (James Rebhorn and Mark Pellegrino) who know her personally and are trying to get her to sweet-talk her lover into gabbing about the Bay of Pigs invasion. Adam’s parents have also told him that she has a child, which he immediately and quite unbelievably uses as some sort of emotional ammunition when he presses her about her affair with Kennedy. “Some things should be private,” Catherine says. “Like your son?!” Adam retorts. Schooled!
The silliness continues for the whole of the film, with Camelot conspiracies ostensibly at the film’s center while Adam and Catherine are really what’s centerstage. Watch them giggle during a paint fight! Feel the heartbreak when Adam breaks into Catherine’s apartment and has to hide in the closet, watching her screw another guy while a tortured, tinkly soundtrack plays! The filmmakers save the best—or the worst—for the end, however, as corruption ends at the bottom of the Exorcist stairs and love reveals itself in a surprise portrait. Turns out An American Affair needed more than a name change to save itself from embarrassment.