Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

The other night, I turned on the film adaptation of Micheal Chabon's fantastic novel "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh". The film was most famous for staring Sienna Miller who called Pittsburgh "Shittsburgh" in an interview with Rolling Stone, only to later get the business from Yinzer Nation. "Mysteries..." was Chabon's first novel and he published it at age 25. Chabon eventually won the Pulitzer for "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay", a book that I couldn't get past page 50. He also wrote "Wonder Boys", which I have not read, but I did happen to love the film that starred Micheal Douglas, Robert Downey Jr. and Tobey McGuire and like "Mysteries...", was filmed in Pittsburgh (including on my HS campus).

"Mysteries..." is Chabon's only book I have finished, which I did so within a week. It's a great story about that post-college summer that almost all of us face. But it's not generic, you know, the type of book I might write about my first post-college summer, which was interesting and full of ridiculousness, but Chabon's story involves fantastical characters and bizarre relationships of all kinds. And it's really really funny, even though there's a harsh tone that rises throughout the book up to the final scene. I would recommend it to anyone, especially younger Pittsburgh natives.

But the movie? Where to begin... the only good thing I can say is the movie is aesthetically beautiful. There are some great shots of Western Pennsylvania, including Polish Hill; the costumes are right on target with the time period (1983), something I can't really say about Adventure Land (another 80's movie set in Pittsburgh); and the soundtrack is really good. Indie movies are usually pretty artsy, so there's no surprise there.

Unfortunately, they changed the plot completely and cut out one of the best characters (Arthur Lacomte). I don't have a problem when movies do this, but in this instance it led to a terrible script and made the story less tangible. It's not funny at all (it didn't help by cutting out the scene where they get the dogs drunk at a house Cleveland is sitting), and made Phlox, a character that is made for the screen much like Willy Wonka was, an auxiliary character. The movie also did a disservice to Cleveland by just trying to meld Arthur's character into him. The script led to some pretty bad acting all but for Nick Nolte's wonderful portrayal of Mr. Bechstein. All in all, a pretty terrible movie in my opinion, and the script is an insult to Chabon's novel.

Read the book, don't see the movie.

Morning Update

I should really give myself time to think before I post such a negative review. I think the issue with myself is that I have read the book, and it seemed so tailor made to the screen, that to butcher it to the extent that the film script did was illogical. If you have not read the book then I don't think you'll be all that disappointed, and I can even see how you might enjoy the movie. But if you have read the book, I think you'll have the same reaction that I had, it was a let down.

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