Michael Chabon's 1988 breakthrough novel attracted many fans among the young, sensitive, Foucault-reading, Germs-listening set who were dissatisfied with that decade's superficial labeling and narrow notions of identity. Pittsburgh circa 1983 now looks like a far simpler, more mutable time for innocent, preppy, post-collegiate Art (Jon Foster), the weak, motherless son of a strong Jewish gangster (Nick Nolte, in need of way more scenes). Art feels doomed to be a stockbroker, so the sudden invitation of friendship from two smart, sexual, volatile barflies (Sienna Miller and Peter Sarsgaard) is doubly liberating. He's taken for a wild ride during what he considers his last summer before assuming the mask of adulthood. The story of an unformed young man's self-discovery is an alluring trap for any young-ish male director, and Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) steps in waist-deep. On the page, Chabon's notions that there's really only one kind of love and that we falsely give it different names—cue up your Smiths LPs and heat the kettle for some chamomile tea—are more convincing. But Thurber, as screenwriter, has condensed the novel into a bullet-point outline narrated by a bore. Even more than Charles Ryder or Nick Carraway, Art Bechstein has no qualities, no ambitions, no character other than his chrysalis state of yearning toward...something that cannot be named, but which is entirely predictable in this tame ménage. Only Sarsgaard has any life to him; and the movie only gives him one scene with Nolte, then—here's your spoiler—closes the door so we can't see the fireworks.
Sarsgaard, Miller, and Foster in their enchanted decade.
Opens at Varsity, Fri., April 17. Rated R. 96 minutes.