The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
This film should have been a winner. It would have made for a great
article. The director is an indie auteur who didn't have enough money to
acquire the rights to a Michael Chabon novel and to film it the way he hoped
to. So he saved his pennies for years and worked as a hired gun on any mass
audience project with a good paycheck, until he finally had enough money to
self-finance his dream project. He bought the rights, wrote the screenplay,
produced, directed, and probably cooked for the crew. He also assembled a fairly
impressive B-list cast which included Peter Sarsgaard, Sienna Miller, Nick
Nolte and Mena Suvari. He actually shot the film in Pittsburgh.
Look at the indie cachet. What locale could be better than Pittsburgh,
which is virtually the birthplace of the modern indie film, the city where
George Romero shot many films, including two of the best indies of all time:
Knightriders and Night of the Living Dead? What star could be better to tap
into the indie vibe than Sarsgaard, a fine young actor who would rather appear
in a meritorious film or play than collect a good paycheck?
All the stars were in alignment.
The only problem is that the film really isn't very good. Entered into
competition at Sundance in 2008, it picked up some scathing reviews, failed to
draw a distribution deal, and disappeared for more than a year, when it popped
up on 20 screens in April of 2009 and grossed a grand total of $79,000. Next
stop: DVD in August.
What went wrong? I suppose a dozen critics would have a dozen different
opinions, but as I see it, the film has two critical flaws:
1. It is too literary, insufficiently cinematic. The screenwriter had so
much respect for Chabon's prose that he retained a large chunk of it as
narration. There is so much narration that it's almost unnecessary to watch
the screen. The film could be offered to the blind as a book on tape.
2. The film might have survived despite the incessant voice-overs, but
there was a bigger problem. I will catch some hell for this, I suppose, but
the real problem was Peter Sarsgaard. As I mentioned, he is a fine actor, and
I'm sure he delivered the role as he envisioned it. Unfortunately, that
characterization stripped all credibility out of an already improbable story,
and robbed the film of its proper dynamic. His character was supposed to be a
low-level mobster who was bisexual. He gets involved in a three-way
relationship with another bisexual man and a straight woman who loves them
both. The characters have sex in all combinations. In order for Sarsgaard's
character to work, he has to be both charismatic and intimidating. Sarsgaard
brought charisma to the role, but played him swishy: the kind of lisping,
mincing guy who would command no respect from anyone without a gun in his
hand, and who would certainly not be welcome in the company of mobsters.
Sarsgaard did to this role what another great actor, Marlon Brando, did to
Fletcher Christian: he stripped away all the testosterone. Let's face it,
nobody is intimidated by Lyle, the effeminate heterosexual. You think this guy
would be out collecting protection money? This guy couldn't have intimidated
Les Nessman. If he walked past a playground, the bullies would beat him up for
his lunch money.
Would the film have worked if Sarsgaard's character appeared to be really
rugged and intimidating, then turned out to be bisexual? Well, that would have
helped, but I can't tell you that such a change would have made this a successful
film. Coming-of-age dramas usually concentrate on everyman characters, those
who represent the audience, looking at an uncertain future. The audience has
to be able to identify with the everyman. This storyline involves the son of
the head of the Pittsburgh mob who is headed for a sure-fire six-figure job in
his uncle's brokerage firm. While studying for his brokerage exam in the
summer after college graduation, he gets involved with a boho young couple
ends up falling in love and having sex with both of them. Of course, you might
be able to make a good film out of that story. You can make a good film out of
almost anything. But it would be very difficult to make a successful film, one
which would appeal to a wide audience, if the everyman character, the one who
represents you and me, is pictured having sex with a guy. That reduces the
appeal and makes it the kind of film which opens in 20 theaters, then
disappears, even if it is quite brilliant.
So I guess it didn't really matter too much whether it was good or not.
Lots of nudity:
Typical youthploitation sex comedy. It is basically a two-man show. The
same two guys wrote, directed, and starred.
On the night of senior prom, a sensitive virgin about to lose his cherry
takes a bad fall and lapses into a coma. He wakes up four years later and
nobody is left in his life except his goofy stoner friend. His family has
moved away and his once-virginal girlfriend is now a Playmate of the Month.
Moreover, his body has atrophied from having been unconscious in bed for four
years. He and his stoner pal eventually undertake a road trip to the Playboy
Mansion, where he hopes to meet up with the ex-girlfriend and speak his peace.
Blah, blah, blah. The humor is pretty dark for a goofball youth comedy, but
it does manage a few sick laughs here and there, and the real Hugh Hefner and
some real playmates appear to lend a little credibility.
Those two guys must be the world's greatest salesmen. Not only did they
somehow persuade Hef to appear in their modest little film and let them shoot
it at the mansion, but they somehow also managed to get their typical
straight-to-DVD product distributed to more than 1700 theaters, where it
proceeded to attract absolutely nobody. This film took in about $1300 per
screen on its opening weekend, which was $300 less than the legendary Gigli.
There is some nudity: