Worst Film: At the end of what may well be the sorriest literary adaptation in many a moon, a title credit appears: Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Pretty soon we get to: Written by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Somewhere in the production credits, this bone of contention arises: Based on the novel by Michael Chabon (although the preceding movie we’ve just watched (in collective stupefaction) was only based on the title of a novel by Michael Chabon); a few more credits flash past, and then we come to it: A film by Rawson Marshall Thurber. At this point, I could no longer contain the whoop of derision that had been building in my craw over most of the past 85 minutes.
“A film” is precisely what Mr. Rawson Marshall Thurber hasn’t made of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Chabon’s 1988 debut as a novelist. Rather, Mr. Rawson Marshall Thurber has made a complete hash—a motion picture so bad, so utterly at cross-purposes with the novel’s intent, and yet a movie so utterly sure of itself in the deforming liberties it takes as to seem an achievement on par with—what? With Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s trashing of Susan Orlean, perhaps? Well, not quite, because in that instance the makers of Adaptation were openly, quite self-consciously urinating all over The Orchid Thief; by contrast, Mr. Rawson Marshall Thurber genuinely appears to believe he has wrought somethin’ fine out of Chabon’s book by grinding it down into a sort of Apatow-esque Garden State 2. Yes, it’s just like revisiting Garden State, only with more nudity, a soupçon of bisexuality (lucky for us Mr. Rawson Marshall Thurber sure did get rid of all that gay stuff Chabon wrote about), a rapidly edited montage of hetero anal sex in a bookstore, oh and a jewel heist, followed by a high-octane police car chase with screeching sirens and crunchin’ gravel—yes sirree, Bob, just like at a real movie! Carried off with a straight face and everything. And have I mentioned all the voice-over narration that goes on and on in scene after scene (i.e., “Suddenly my mind went blank”), thereby relieving the actors of any responsibility for acting, as well as abdicating us, the viewers, of any obligation to watch (we can just close our eyes and listen, honey)? On the weight of this evidence, I pronounce Mr. Rawson Marshall Thurber the cinema’s first totally non-ironic graduate of the Donald Kaufman School of Acme Screenwriting.
There are no mysteries in Thurber’s Mysteries; those well-observed vicissitudes of Chabon’s that linger in the mind nearly 20 years after reading his book, those haunting, individual qualities that transcend the coming-of-age genre—those have been assiduously sponged clean. Thurber’s movie scarcely seems to have anything to do with Pittsburgh, either; it’s a whitewash that could take place anywhere. And although the story’s purportedly set in 1983, the writer-director’s lone concession to period detail lies in the fact that the three neurasthenic creeps who serve as his main characters do not text one another.
Friday, June 20, 2008
From the director of Dodgeball
From a much longer wrap-up on the Seattle International Film Festival, a takedown of the new adaptation of Michael Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. I'm a Chabon fan but just got around to reading this on my vacation. (House Next Door)