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It's Sarsgaard Time

By Ted Boynton | Trailers | March 12, 2009 |

By Ted Boynton | Trailers | March 12, 2009 |

After a puzzling year-long delay in finding a distributor, the film adaptation of Michael Chabon’s wonderful novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh will finally release this spring through Peace Arch, an independent distribution company. Mysteries director (and Friend Of Pajiba) Rawson Thurber (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story) adapted Chabon’s coming-of-age story about a working class college graduate (Jon Foster) whose self-image and values evolve over the course of a summer spent in an odd, sexually charged relationship with a society girl (Sienna Miller) and her thug boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard).

Mysteries debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, where the Pajiba contingent attended a screening and had generally favorable reactions. Thurber’s adaptation substantially alters the pivot point of the story, essentially switching the focus from the novel’s main plot to its primary sub-plot to place more emphasis on the protagonist’s dream-like experiences with and romantic admiration for the Miller and Sarsgaard characters. Miller’s playful tigress and Sarsgaard’s sleazily appealing biker drive the adaptation, which relegates Foster’s primary love interest from the novel (Mena Suvari) to third string behind another intriguing storyline, Foster’s difficult relationship with his inaccessible gangster father (Nick Nolte).

Despite these changes, Thurber successfully captures the mood and tone of the book, thanks to both his subtle sense of narrative and the generally excellent cast. As the film’s axis around which the more interesting characters revolve, Foster’s primary job is to stay out of the grown-ups’ way, which he does admirably. The always-excellent Sarsgaard plays to his unsavory strengths as the mercurial biker boy, a more dangerous version of his supporting role in Garden State. Nolte is perfect as a grouchy mobster who wants his son to have a better future than he had but still values obedience more than love. But Sienna Miller is the revelation here; tawny, cool and chippy, her nihilistic party girl projects a façade of invulnerability that begins to fray along with her relationship with Sarsgaard. Sienna Miller the movie star may be a publicist’s nightmare, but Sienna Miller the actor continues to deliver the goods — she was fantastic in Interview with Steve Buscemi and the only thing worth seeing in the disappointing Factory Girl.

Advance reviews for Mysteries have been mixed, trending a bit negative, which has provided a convenient mallet for bashing the film’s failure to find a distributor. I’m happy to be the contrarian. Given the steady stream of Hollywood sewage that always seems to find instant distribution into my ear- and eye-holes, it’s a crime that it took so long for a pretty good picture to find its way to the screen. Have a look: