Coming-of-age drama “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” is based on a novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon (“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”) and features a cast of indie-film veterans, including Sienna Miller (“Factory Girl”) and Peter Sarsgaard (“Garden State”). From the opening sequence, the deliberate awkwardness of protagonist Art Buckstein (Jon Foster) is neither endearing nor comical. Instead, the dreary character appears simply exhausted with his wit. In his monotonous, melancholy whisper Art proceeds to narrate an erratic story that fails to develop its characters and divulges the twisted and bleak conflicts of life without offering moviegoers any tangible catharsis.
Jon Foster’s inexcusably flat portrayal of the main character would have rendered the film itself inconsequential. The poor acting combined with the film’s contrived dialogue and lack-luster climax made
“The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” the single worst thing to happen to American indie cinema since tween girls started ogling Zach Braff.
The plot is driven by a trite and stereotypical slew of supporting characters. From the generic “gangster” father figure played by Nick Nolte (“Paris, Je T’aime”), who delivers his handful of cliché threats and grunts with forcible gruffness, to the hysterical ‘Book Barn’ manager, played by Mena Suvari (“American Pie”), who scathingly retorts “I cut you out of my heart!” after a monologue assessing her relationship to Art.
The film centers around the sexual tension between the Art, drunken beauty Jane Bellweather (Miller), and her bisexual boyfriend Cleveland (Sargaard). Art, a bored college graduate/son of a mobster, becomes Cleveland’s unwitting sidekick after meeting Jane at a party and going out with her to eat pie (literally). Cleveland appears at the Book Barn where Art works the next day, and with a motorcycle helmet concealing his face and hair, demands Art climb on the back of his motorcycle and ride with him to an unspecified location. Art complies, fearing the unnamed man is an enemy of his father’s.
From that point on the films follows the unlikely trio as they embark upon quasi-suburban-adventures such as heavy drinking, attending punk rock concerts and wearing tuxedos to a shirt-and-tie event. The film never clarifies the reasoning behind the trio’s oddball friendship. Nor does it accessibly develop the tormented love which later drives Art to sleep with both Jane and Cleveland after the couple undergoes a tumultuous break-up. The rest of the movie is merely a parade of tragedy and heartbreak set in unlikely scenarios with characters that audience members are still struggling to comprehend, much less sympathize with.
After being denounced by Jane for sleeping with Cleveland and then watching Cleveland climb to the top of an abandoned steel mill and then jump to his death, the protagonist does eventually “come of age.”
The film ends with Art confronting his father and setting out on his own for the first time. Unfortunately, viewers may find themselves too exhausted to care after suffering all of the stilted emotions and convoluted plot twists of each character. The only praise rightfully attributed to “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” is that the film contains a handful of scenes that showcase the natural and gritty beauty of Pittsburgh. While the movie’s soundtrack features a couple of soft rock indie gems, the film itself is little more than a headache-inducing waste of time and effort by a handful of talented contributors.