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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,


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.


Join The Conversation
ladypenguin ladypenguin 9 years
I think the sh*tsburgh comment actually came before the whole id at the club thing...that was just a result of Pittsburghers disliking her because of her comments.
Liz7757 Liz7757 9 years
I'm going to have to agree with franQ. From what I've heard about the movie, it seems like they changed the book entirely. How you can conglomerate two completely different characters with completely different story lines in the book into one is beyond me. I guess it'll make the end of the book involving Cleveland more poetic though.
tlsgirl tlsgirl 9 years
ilanac - back when she was filming the movie, she tried to get into a club without an I.D., was denied, and proceeded to call Pittsburgh "sh*tsburgh."
ilanac13 ilanac13 9 years
that's just a weird cast - but i don't know - maybe if i see the trailer and get into the plot more - it'll be worth it. i don't know yet.... what's with sienna and Pittsburgh?
franQ franQ 9 years
Again, as someone who spent time living in Pittsburgh, I LOVE that town! But I also love the novel, THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH, by Michael Chabon. And if Rawson Marshall Thurber loved it too (as he says), he would NEVER have changed the story. Yes, the relationship between Art and Cleveland in the film is lamely subdued, because in the book they are nothing more than FRIENDS. "There was no shadow of sex to mar or deepin it... We were friends." (see p. 204 of the paperback) My offer still stands to share a copy of the screenplay for anyone interested in reading or comparing to the novel. Email: bechstein[at]yahoo[dot]com
Entertainment Entertainment 9 years
Haha, thanks tlsgirl! :) I wrote that immediately after the screening because that was exactly my experience with this movie.
nancita nancita 9 years
Great I'm intrigued to see it even if it isn't fabulous. I hear you about Sienna Miller, and I don't think I'd feel all that different about her if she weren't a tabloid celeb. She is very beautiful but just pretty boring as an actress. I don't know that she has the talent to overcome the issues you bring up.
tlsgirl tlsgirl 9 years
Also from Pittsburgh, so I'm excited to see the movie for that reason, but I truly loathe Sienna Miller. Blech. Oh, and Buzz, great first line for the review :)
aconstant440 aconstant440 9 years
I'm excited to see this also, despite the reviews. I also grew up in Pgh and loved it there.
LuciLu LuciLu 9 years
I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, (now living elsewhere) and I cannot wait to see this movie. Despite what Sienna said, the city is a great place to live. :) I forgive her though, bc the club she tried to get into, and denied her for not having an ID, SUCKS. ;)
Lorelei-Spirit Lorelei-Spirit 9 years
Saaaaaaaaaaarsgaaaaaaaaaaaard. :rotfl: Everytime I see his name I think of the SNl Pirate skit.
Linda-McP Linda-McP 9 years
As a person who loves Pittsburgh, I'm really looking forward to seeing this one. Despite Sienna Miller's dissing of the city, it really is a great place. While Chabon's book Mysteries of Pittsburgh hasn't received the critical acclaim that Wonder Boys did, it still is a good story. Sorry to hear that the film may not be as brilliant, but I'm game anyway. Thanks, Buzz!
WhatTheFrockBlog WhatTheFrockBlog 9 years
I've been working my way through Chabon's novels slowly but surely (recently finished Kavalier and Clay, am in the middle of Wonder Boys) and plan to get to this one next. So far, I'm a big fan of his work, so I'm sorry to hear that this film probably isn't doing it justice.
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