Cameron Bright plays Adam Stafford, a 13-year-old kid whose growing interest in women coincides with awareness of his next-door neighbor, Catherine Caswell (Gretchen Mol). He steals her mail and discovers an item from John F. Kennedy, and proceeds to involve himself in her life, first by offering to work in her backyard as a summer job and later by hiding in her closet as she has sex with strangers and stealing her diary. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when Catherine's CIA ex-husband reappears (Mark Pellegrino), angry at all of the other men interested in his one-time wife.
The main thing standing between the audience and their enjoyment of the movie is their interest or awareness of real world politics at the time the movie was set. While JFK and the time period are inseparable from the story for the sake of the audience's interest, the film isn't about the President, just the idea of him. He's the movie's MacGuffin, motivating the story and characters without being specifically imprortant. During the third act, more and more politics begin to seep into the plot (mainly from James Rebhorn's CIA chief, and to a lesser extent Pellegrino), and not coincidentally, it's where the movie falls apart due to sheer ridiculousness. As long as the movie merely uses JFK to create interest in Adam and Catherine, it's fine. Adam's Catholic school is more interesting, where he flirts with a girl (Laurel Astri) and talks back to his strict nun teachers.
More than anything, An American Affair again raises the question: why isn't Gretchen Mol more famous than she is? She's the backbone of the movie, finding a safe path through the potential melodrama and deftly balancing on it. Catherine is understanding and lightly encouraging of Adam's fantasies about her in a way that avoids being lecherous (although one moment is pretty awkward), and she's got more than a few strong dramatic scenes with Rebhorn and Pellegrino. Having also seen her excellent performance in the underrated Notorious Bettie Page, it's hard to believe she's not getting offered more prestigious roles. Cameron Bright, meanwhile, is more interesting here than he's been in the other roles I've seen him in (Running Scared, Ultraviolet, X-Men: The Last Stand), but his performance could use a little more energy. Noah Wyle is also excellent as Adam's father.
The effectiveness of An American Affair is simple and straightforward: good performances in a reasonably interesting story. Sometimes, there's not much more to it than that. In the case of this film, the story is a ludicrous bit of psuedo-history, and it's better to not overthink it; the third act, again, is a bit of a misfire, with conspiracy theories and shady decisions threaten to derail everything. Nonetheless, viewers with patience and reserved expectations (not to mention fans of Gretchen Mol) will probably find enough to like to make it worth giving An American Affair a spin in the player on a rainy night.