The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
dir-scr Rawson Marshall Thurber
prd Thor Benander, Jason Mercer, Rawson Marshall Thurber, Michael London
with Jon Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sienna Miller, Nick Nolte, Mena Suvari, Omid Abtahi, Keith Michael Gregory, Seth Adams, Patrick Jordan, Stephen Liska, Marc Macaulay, Don Wadsworth
release US 10.Apr.09
08/US 1h35
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
How do you know: Sarsgaard and Foster

miller nolte suvari
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh This skilfully shot adaptation of Michael Chabon's classic novel struggles to capture the introspective coming-of-age themes, and ends up being an oddly muted film that's almost impossible to identify with.

Art (Foster) is a young guy having his last summer of freedom before responsibility sets in. Trying to escape his gangster father (Nolte), he gets a job in a bookshop and has a fling with his boss (Suvari). Then he falls for the free-spirited violinist Jane (Miller). Even more intriguing is Jane's dodgy boyfriend Cleveland (Sarsgaard), who stirs something unexpected in Art's life and freaks him out on almost every level. But all this fun is taking a toll on his studies.

Thurber's script depends on a literary-style voice-over, which feels a bit lazy, as if he was trying to get the book verbatim into the film. The complex network of relationships refuse to fit into neat boxes, so the movie feels episodic and random. And it's not easy to get into. It also seems random that the story is set in the 80s, except that Art is training to be a stockbroker. Although this adds to the film's warm, engaging tone. And it's beautifully photographed by Michael Barrett.

Along the way, Thurber achieves a nicely against-the-grain structure that keeps us guessing at what will happen next. This helps carry us along even when things start to drift a little. Several key suggestions that aren't followed through, and important themes aren't properly developed, especially the bisexuality. Sure, Art loves both Jane and Cleveland, but Thurber's aloof style never makes this hugely convincing.

In fact, everything is strangely muted, from the romance to the action. And none of the big questions are really dealt with, let alone answered. Instead, it's framed as if it's all a blip in Art's memory. Still, Foster is a likeable lead, an everyman nice guy who's a bit of a blank. Miller is sexy and oddly cold, with a drifting accent. Sarsgaard is terrific against type as the mercurial biker dude who catches Art's (and our) imagination. But frankly, he would have made a better central figure for the movie. Better yet, read the book.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, violence 17.Jan.10

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