Friday I showed up at 7:30pm to be one of about 100 punk club scene extras in The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. The short version: Peter Sarsgaard is indeed a babe, Sienna Miller is even tinier than you'd think, and geniune punks will smuggle beer into a film shoot. The snark, and spoilers, after the jump.
WHAT WAS MICHAEL CHABON THINKING?
OK, now that's off my chest.
I haven't read the script, but I learned several things about the movie from this one punk club scene. If you've read Mysteries of Pittsburgh, you might be wondering "what punk club scene?" Don't fret, it's not the Alzheimers setting in -- there isn't one. But one punk club scene added wouldn't be so terrible, really, if it weren't for what it reveals.
In this scene, Cleveland (Peter Sarsgaard), the rough, self-destructive buddy, is partying with his girlfriend Jane (Sienna Miller) and wide-eyed protagonist Art tags along. While in the book Jane was a preppy, tennis-playing rich girl, for this scene she's wearing a black and hot pink bustier that looks like it came off the sale rack at Victoria's Secret. She's got more eye makeup on than Jessica Simpson -- not to mention what looked like a very bad weave. But I digress. Jane? Bustier? Wha?
Also, the movie has no Arthur. Arthur is the book's Gatsby, a gay Gatsby who our protagonist Art falls for even as he's dating a girlie-girl named Phlox. Phlox, despite being played by Mena Suvari, isn't much of a presence in the film, from what I've gathered. She isn't in this scene. What is in the scene:
Cleveland, Jane and Art have a conversation, do a couple of shots and plunge into the crowd of dancing punks. Two cameras, tons of coverage (too much, according to the film's crew) -- at least it's likely to make the final cut of the film this way. The director, Rawson Marshall Thurber (he gets RMT on his director's chair) tells the slamming punks that in 1983, there were no elbows or pits, just pogo-ing, just bouncing up and down. This is when he loses them. The punks are already mad about all the mohawks in the room -- mohawks didn't make it to Pittsburgh until 1984, they've established, so the authenticity is shot. And this pogo-ing crap? RMT is just plain wrong. He obviously doesn't want the stars getting all banged around -- which did happen on the first take, and a couple after that -- but just be a man and say so. "Don't slam into Sienna, she's tiny." That would have been enough. The be-mohawked, drunk punks don't pay much attention after this, and several bail early, around 5:30am. Even though the continuity will be screwed by losing the bright green and red mohawks, the frazzled extras coordinator signs them out so they'll get paid. I think she was a little scared of them.
Anyway, the scene continues with Art getting into watching the punk rock band, Jane wandering off to lie down and Cleveland disappearing. Art checks on Jane; "I'm not feeling very well," she says, and it makes me crazy that she's talking like a script instead of a drunk person. But who knows, maybe it works for the characer in context. Then Art goes off to find Cleveland, who is getting blown in the bathroom by the band's bass player. The male bass player. In the movie, Cleveland is bisexual. Which isn't, to my mind, a fair substitute for Arthur.
In the movie, Art falls for (and, I hear, sleeps with) both Jane and Cleveland, which is a fine story, but it just doesn't seem to be The Mysteries of Pittsburgh at all. The book had two things going on, Art's burgeoning bisexuality and his attempts to deal with his (mafia) past and his (possibly preppy) future. Phlox and Arthur were the poles in the first conflict, and Cleveland and Jane stood in, in the backgroud, for the second. Trashing up Jane makes her relationship with Cleveland far less interesting; having a romance between her and Art seems all muddled up.
I read this interview with director Rawson Marshall Thurber, where he comes off as humble and charming (I'd describe his on-set persona as more toothy frat boy). At one point he says,
When [Michael Chabon] read the second draft, he wrote me an email saying, “I love it. It’s great. Go do it.” I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to have Michael’s full vote of confidence and his seal of approval.
Really, "full vote of confidence"? From what I could tell, the script was full of YUCK (Cleveland, after doing a shot, shouts "Wooh! Let's rock!" before plunging into the crowd), and has been turned into Summer Lovers set in Pittsburgh. I hope it's not. I hope it's OK on its own, even if it isn't much of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.
It's not like I'm a purist about the book; it's just on set, I got the feeling that the story had been reconfigured into something that was going to be shallow and cheesy. I'd love to be proved wrong, tho, so if you've got the script, send it on over. I'll gladly eat my blog.