Published Apr 09, 2009Mysteries of Pittsburgh is one of those coming-of-age, not-sure-what-to-do-after-college, summertime love triangle movies. Which isn't to say that everything in the film is familiar. Based on the novel by Michael Chabon (Wonder Boys), portions of the film are smart, original and engaging. But the conventional pacing and direction put the emphasis on the more superficial elements of Chabon's story, hindering what could have been a better film.
After graduation, but before entering the workforce, Art Bechstein (Jon Foster) is looking to spend his last summer of freedom indulging in frivolity - a meaningless job, casual sex with his boss (Mena Suvari) and no responsibility whatsoever - despite objections from his disapproving mobster father (Nick Nolte).
Art eventually becomes entangled with a young girl (Sienna Miller) and her petty criminal boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard). The three become inseparable friends before, inevitably, it becomes clear that Art is romantically infatuated with at least half of the couple, maybe both.
Fans of the novel may be upset by the stark deviations of the film adaptation but the real problem is the direction. Every honest element of the film is soon sullied by contrivance - the three lead characters are well drawn and believable, but we're also made to suffer formulaic scenes such as a skinny-dipping montage set to an Iron & Wine song.
It would have been nice if director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) took a little more from The Graduate and a little less from Garden State. Thurber also wastes Nolte, allowing only a few curmudgeonly moments, and no trademark Nolte freak-outs.
Regardless of these flaws, the source material and talented cast lift the film slightly above the dregs of mediocrity, making for an entertaining, although slight, film. (Peace Arch)