Mysteries of Pittsburgh: A Strangely Flat Adaptation of Michael Chabon’s First Novel


For all the youthful hedonism and reckless behavior on display in Rawson Marshall Thurber’s Mysteries of Pittsburgh, his strangely stillborn adaptation of Michael Chabon’s first novel, there’s something sorely missing – a sense of danger, perhaps, or a hint of intrigue.

All the necessary ingredients are in place – the sex, the drugs, even a hardened crime boss played with requisite menace by Nick Nolte – but it all feels like painting by numbers in this coming-of-age tale fraught with painfully familiar melodrama.

It begins as so many other, more satisfying accounts of post-collegiate malaise often do, with a summer of meandering discontent. Back from school and eager to savor his last gasps of freedom before adulthood begins in earnest, Art (Jon Foster, in a turn unlikely to engage even the most charitable of critics) spurns the Mafia life favored by his father (Nolte) to work at a discount bookstore. The benefits are considerable -- Art enjoys a life of minimal responsibility and frequent but mostly passionless sex with his boss (Mena Suvari) -- yet he yearns for something more.

He finds it, or so he thinks, in Jane (Sienna Miller), a pretty, free-spirited musician with a boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard, the movie's lone highlight) whose sadistic streak is only partially masked by his aggressive charm. Art recounts his infatuation with both in a series of increasingly intrusive voiceovers, though the love triangle is short-lived. By summer's end, professing to have learned many valuable lessons but seeming as much of a blank, blandly uninteresting slate as ever, Art is ready to move on. So are we.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is playing at the Embarcadero Center Cinemas in San Francisco and the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley.

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