Sundance Review: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
by Alex Billington
January 25, 2008
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is the second of two movies from Sundance that were set and filmed in Pittsburgh, a city I spent most of my college years living in (the other movie was Smart People). That alone got me interested in this and I went in looking forward to something funny and cheesy, particularly because of Rawson Marshall Thurber's previous film, Dodgeball. What I discovered was not particularly funny, but rather a very endearing drama with a wonderful score and great characters. It's not anything close to a masterpiece, but Mysteries of Pittsburgh is still a great film.
Art Bechstein (Jon Foster) just graduated from college and is heading into his last free summer before he figures out what he's going to do with the rest of his life. His father is a prominent mobster that Art eats a nice dinner with once a month. When a random encounter with a friend brings him to a party, he meets and falls instantly in love with Jane (Sienna Miller), but quickly discovers that she has a boyfriend named Cleveland (Peter Sarsgaard). With nothing better to do over the summer, Art makes friends with Cleveland and starts to hang out with Jane and Cleveland more than attend his own job. His lust for Jane and the time he spends with the troublemaker Cleveland soon cause his perfect little dream life to start to fall apart.
Before I get into the meat of this review, I've got big bone to pick with the story. What I don't get is why someone would spend that much time as a third wheel in a relationship. Maybe I just don't approve of the idea or find it absolutely ridiculous, but if you liked a girl, would you spend two months of your summer hanging out with her boyfriend and her while they were dating and sleeping together? That just doesn't make sense, it seems like a giant waste of time that would only brood jealousy, which is what did in the end. But case in point, that aspect of the story is a bit skeptical and brings up that big question. And that's only one of many parts of the story that leave me with a sore spot.
What this comes down to is the quintessential question - what do you look for in a movie: good production values, music, and actors, or just a great story. With The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, it's got great actors, it's got great production values and cinematography, and it's got a great score, and when you combine all of that it can still be very enjoyable. I have a huge soft spot for piano based scores that are used well, and Mysteries of Pittsburgh uses a piano based score by Theodore Shapiro extremely well. While it may not have been the best script or the best story out there, it is a film with so many other great values that it's almost possible to look past the rough edges of the story and instead at a film that I thoroughly enjoyed.