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The Mysteries of Pittsburgh review

Sundance Review: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is great. And then it's terrible. And then it's puzzling. Then it's truthful. Then you go, "whaaaa?" And it ends and you're like, "eh."

It's not a bad movie, by any means. The music is fantastic, for example. Many of the directorial choices (the way shots are set up, the use of voiceover narration, etc.) are superb. Several of the performances are arresting. But the dialog is stilted and the action feels extremely rushed. I attended the "world premiere" of the movie at Sundance, and director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) introduced it by thanking the citizens of Pittsburgh and professing his undying love for the Michael Chabon book on which the movie is based. His love is apparent, but it isn't enough to make the film truly enjoyable.


The story follows Art Bechstein (Jon Foster), a young man who, wishing to avoid responsibility for the Summer before he joins the real world, is living in Pittsburgh, working at a book warehouse. He dreads the monthly dinners with his father (Nick Nolte), a shady individual with power over most of the city, and he regularly sleeps with his boss Phlox (Mena Suvari). Then he meets Jane (Sienna Miller) and her boyfriend Cleveland (Peter Sarsgaard) and his life instantly becomes more interesting. To find out more about this, read more.

The movie version of Chabon's book focuses on the relationships between coarse bisexual Cleveland, vibrant Jane, and average Art, as the line between friendship and something-more starts to blur — between all three of them. Like so many movies, though, the love scenes heavily favor the female form. Even in the scenes with naked men — with only naked men — the filming is much more reserved, conservative. This makes me wonder if the filmmakers were not particularly comfortable portraying homosexuality. I haven't read the book, but I heard people who have grumble that the relationship between Cleveland and Art in the film is lamely subdued.

For the most part, the performances are good, though Jon Foster seems so much like John Krasinski — minus the ease and sweetness — I found myself wishing they'd just gotten Krasinski instead. Nick Nolte is gravel-throated and terrifying. Peter Sarsgaard is someone I have often thought of as a lazy, dopey actor. At the very least, those are often the characters he plays, and it makes me wonder. But in this movie he is commanding and aggressively committed. I started to feel toward him what the characters around him felt: irresistibly drawn to him, yet annoyed with his behavior.

I often wonder what I would think of Sienna Miller if I had no idea who she was in the tabloid sense. I think she does a fine job in this film, but she always seems so aware of her own beauty, her own power. And this is a problem when she's trying to play normal girls with major insecurities and issues. Whether this is her issue to overcome as an actress or something that falls to directors, I'm not sure.

Bottom line: There are moments of real truth and beauty, but it's all undermined by moments of total ridiculousness.

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