The Mysteries of Pittsburgh Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber Reviewed: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

Yearning Rubber: Sarsgaard and Foster are on a road to nowhere.

Tobey Maguire seemed too tame for the big screen back when he played a leading role in Wonder Boys, the 2000 adaptation of Michael Chabon’s second novel. But Maguire was a tiger compared to Jon Foster in The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which is based on Chabon’s debut and was adapted by writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (you know, the dude who brought us Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story). Foster plays Art Bechstein, a recent college graduate whose most interesting characteristic is that his father (Nick Nolte) is a mobster. Art is taking additional classes to become a stockbroker but otherwise spends his post-graduate summer doing brainless work in a bookstore. He screws his supervisor, Phlox (Mena Suvari), out of boredom but eventually regards their trysts as an “obligation.” So he’s game when he meets a stunner named Jane (Sienna Miller) and her volatile, bisexual boyfriend, Cleveland (Peter Sarsgaard), the latter of whom drags Art into a weird, mostly platonic summerlong threesome. The story is set in 1983, though besides an old-school Visa card there’s little to remind viewers that it’s not the present day. What you will be reminded of is other movies, particularly Garden State— both films feature Sarsgaard, and Jane predictably apes Natalie Portman’s do-something-original scene. (In this case, it’s “Tell me something you’ve never said out loud before. Then this moment becomes unique.”) The film’s worst offense, though, is that it’s not really about anything. The trio get drunk, dance, fight, screw around. A generically dramatic score gets increasingly pervasive as the script gets choppier: There’s fucking, fucking, staring, staring, sweeping music signaling angst all the while! Art’s voiceover imports some of Chabon’s funnier and more lyrical passages, but otherwise the guy is as passive as Benjamin Button minus the freak-of-nature excuse. And as watchable as Miller and Sarsgaard may be, they’re not enough to save the film. When Jane tells Art, “[Cleveland] loves you. I love you!” you shouldn’t have to wonder why.

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