Some coming-of-age movies capture the experience of growing up and moving on, while some keep the story going by spending 90 minutes keeping a protagonist from hitching the first ride out of town. The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh adapts Michael Chabon’s first novel, but it’s really rooted in every bastard child of I Vitelloni in which it’s clear from the first frame that the film won’t end until the protagonist clears out, but it makes us sit still and stare at the unpacked baggage.
In whatever is the opposite of a star-making performance, Jon Foster stars as the milquetoast hero, a recent college graduate slated for a family-arranged trading job that he’s committed to taking to please his gangster father (Nick Nolte). When he isn’t shelving books at a discount bookstore, he’s fucking his boss (Mena Suvari). Neither task gives him much pleasure, so he seeks it elsewhere, falling hard for Sienna Miller, a friend of a friend he meets at a party. He’s put off when he discovers Miller has a boyfriend with shady underworld connections, but drawn to her once again when the boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard) shows up unexpectedly and takes an aggressive interest in winning his friendship.
Thus begins a summer-long love triangle that doesn’t always connect at the expected intersections. But for all the story’s drugs, crime, casual bisexuality, and Pittsburgh scenery, writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) never generates much excitement. Foster remains a cipher even with all the voiceover narration the film gives him. The weirdly ubiquitous Miller, as usual, remains a charmless beauty. (It’s beginning to feel as if her agent must be running a Ponzi scheme, arranging for the next role before the uninspired results of the last one see daylight.) Only Sarsgaard shows a pulse, creating a self-destructive, omnisexual rogue who, for all his faults, would probably be great company. The same can’t be said for the film around him.