Based on a novel by Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is the sophomore effort of Rawson Marshall Thurber, coming off the hugely successful Dodgeball (which he got off the Terry Tate Office Linebacker shorts). Of particular interest because Thurber graduated USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program a few years before me, and even came to speak during one of our classes. He’s a talented, well-spoken guy and I’m ashamed to admit it took me until this was on HBO to catch up with it.
When this was announced it has a lot of people scratching their heads, because Thurber could have had his choice of big budget studio comedies – taking a layup that would have further cemented his status as a go-to studio comedy guy (I say all that not knowing the exact circumstances of his situation). But if you’re going to take a risk, I guess Chabon is an interesting choice.
And Thurber puts forth a really well-directed film here. Nick Nolte hasn’t been this good in a while, and Mena Suvari was never good – so casting her as the girl we grow to hate is perfect. And Sienna Miller holds her own, something I did not expect. For me, she is overexposed with too little to show for it. Everytime I see her photo (usually pale and pasty and naked) see looks like she just woke up – and somehow whenever I see her onscreen she pulls it together and looks incredible.
Playing Art Bechstein, our hero so to speak, is Jon Foster (who also happened to star in my friend’s film Stay Alive). I almost didn’t recognize him here, as he seems to have lost a lot of weight. He’s the straight man in this film, but even still you can exude some charisma. And I guess this was my problem with the movie – he has none. I’m bored by him, which maybe was the point. He’s a decent actor, but the weight of this film is too much to carry on his shoulders. Interestingly, he, nor his character, are credited on IMDB. Seems particularly odd because he’s the lead.
The first half of the story got me really engaged, a post-collegiate coming-of-age story – which could have been like every other ‘I’m too smart for this shitty existence’ film, but just wasn’t. About halfway through it takes some odd turns. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but what seems like inconsistencies in Art’s choices will really baffle you. And possibly creep you out.
Looking forward to Thurber’s next film, which I will see well before it hits HBO…