BOXOFFICE caught up with Rawson Marshall Thurber, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh's writer/director.

Adapting 'Mysteries'

on April 13, 2009 by Marco Cerritos


When The Mysteries of Pittsburgh premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival two things instantly permeated through the minds of giddy moviegoers, an adaptation of the beloved Michael Chabon novel was finally attempted for the big screen and it was being realized by a relative newcomer, Rawson Marshall Thurber, whose only previous directing credit was the comedy hit Dodgeball.

Coming from the world of slapstick comedy and trying to adapt a serious coming-of-age story is something Thurber is all too familiar with but he doesn’t seem to mind. We recently met on Easter Sunday to discuss The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and one of the first things we touched on was his obvious genre-hopping which Thurber wears like a badge of honor. For the USC Film School graduate, the last thing he’s looking for is to get pigeonholed as a certain type of director, especially when he feels he can mold his young career in different ways. And after falling in love with the source material, Thurber felt determined to track down Michael Chabon himself and convince the literally legend to at least give him a chance to adapt it. Even if it was from the director of Dodgeball.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh has had a reputation of being extremely complicated and un-adaptable, a challenge that plagued many directors over the years before resting on Thurber’s shoulders. Even with the stellar cast of Jon Foster, Sienna Miller, Peter Sarsgaard, Mena Suvari and Nick Nolte, the density of the source material seemed to outweigh everything else. His approach to the pressure was simple, you can’t please everybody so it’s a no-brainer to give it your best shot and try to make the most of it anyway.

“The book sort of got this rap of being un-adaptable, a lot of people tried to do it and didn’t meet with much success," Thurber tells B OXOFFICE. "It’s a beautiful, beautiful novel but first of all, any adaptation is always a challenge and you get slammed either way. You get slammed for taking too many liberties or you get slammed for being too rigorous with the book, too faithful to the book. So ultimately you have to be true to yourself I guess which is a little maudlin but it’s the case.”

Some of the earliest support for The Mysteries of Pittsburgh came from bloggers at Sundance who responded to the film and followed the buzz to its current release. The recent debate of print journalists vs. the blog community is a double-edged sword for Thurber and he is ultimately grateful that it helped his film.

“If you look at Sundance where so much is about buzz and so much is about hype and instant reaction and bloggers are more nimble at that, so that can be used for good or used for ill. You can be absolutely vivisected by the blog community or you can be lionized in fifteen seconds. The genie will never go back in the bottle that’s for sure but I’m not sure it’s for the better. I think it’s a losing battle to pit them against each other, print critics vs. bloggers, because I think there are so many reason to hate a critic individually versus what banner they fly under, or to respect a critic individually.”

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is now playing at select locations.

Click here to listen to our full interview with Rawson Marshall Thurber.

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