Based on Michael Chabon's novel, the film chronicles the defining summer of a recent college graduate who crosses his gangster father and explores love, sexuality, and the enigmas surrounding his life and his city.
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Pittsburgh, coming of age in the 1980s. At the beginning of June, Art Beckstein calls this the last summer of his life - after which he'll work as a stock broker. Art's father is the city's mob boss, steering Art's life, judging his choices. At a party, Art sees Jane, smart, blond, lovely. They meet; she has a boyfriend. The next day, Cleveland, the boyfriend, pulls Art from work and the summer of adventures begins. Cleveland lives close to the edge; he's explosive, with hints of problems with local thugs. The triangle of friendship gets complicated when Cleveland disappears for a couple weeks. Can Art sort out his feelings as well as help Cleveland? Where does his father fit in this? Written by
Lifeless Lead Character Drives A Pointless and Obtuse Story
I am quite a fan of novelist/screenwriter Michael Chabon. His novel "Wonder Boys" became a fantastic movie by Curtis Hanson. His masterful novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" won the Pulitzer Prize a few years back, and he had a hand in the script of "Spider Man 2", arguably the greatest comic book movie of all time.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber has also directed wonderful comedic pieces, such as the gut-busting "Dodgeball" and the genius short film series "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker". And with a cast including Peter Saarsgard, Sienna Miller, Nick Nolte and Mena Suvari, this seems like a no-brainer.
It is. Literally.
Jon Foster stars as Art Bechstein, the son of a mobster (Nolte) who recently graduated with a degree in Economics. Jon is in a state of arrested development: he works a minimum wage job at Book Barn, has a vapid relationship with his girlfriend/boss, Phlox (Suvari), which amounts to little more than copious amounts of sex, with no plans other than to chip away at a career for which he has zero passion.
One night at a party, an ex-roommate introduces Jon to Jane (Miller), a beautiful, smart violinist. Later that night they go out for pie, and she asks Jon a question that begins to shake him from his catatonic state of existence, "I want you to tell me something that you have never told a single soul. If you do, it will make this night indelible." Jon then tells her a reoccurring dream of his in which he wanders about town looking at the faces of strangers passing him by, yet none of them look him in the eye. "I imagine it must be what death feels like," he says.
The next day Jane's wild boyfriend Cleveland (Saarsgard) kidnaps Jon from work and takes him out to a hulking abandoned steel mill, and soon Jon, Cleveland and Jane are spending every waking moment together going to punk rock concerts, doing drugs and drinking lots of alcohol. This doesn't sit well with Phlox, who pushes Jon for a more personal relationship, namely letting her meet his new friends and his father. The film then attempts to take us on Jon's journey as he shakes off the shackles imposed on him by his father, Phlox and his dead-end job as he finds freedom and expression through his relationships with Cleveland and Jane.
There is a problem having us follow Jon throughout the film: he's completely uninteresting. He has no ambitions, passions or goals. He walks through life like the invisible wraith he described to Jane the night they met. At the outset this isn't a problem. But he never gets any more interesting. He's a completely passive character. He simply follows along the bohemian Cleveland and Jane, but he never once gives us any inkling as to what he cares about or wants to to do with himself.
Consequently, the film and its supporting characters have nowhere to go and little to do other than party, have sex and get in arguments. In other words, much ado about nothing. What we have here is the shallow skin of a good movie without anything on the inside. Sweeping cinematography, ponderous voice-over with characters staring off into the distance, lots of sex scenes both straight and gay, big arguments, more angry sex, a chase scene and a tragic death... but it doesn't seem to matter. Ironically, at one point Jane, confused at a number of Jon's aimless actions, asks him, "What's going on, Jon? What is this all about?" Yes, Jon, do tell. We in the audience are dying to know, too.
The title "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" must refer to the characters themselves, because that's what they are. They are all facades, one-dimensional stand-ins for actual people. The film never lets us in. We never know what makes any of them tick. We see them do lots of things, but we don't know why. And the absence of "why" is one of the worst things a movie can have.
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