Gary Rotstein's The Morning File: If making a movie in Pittsburgh, try for accurate story


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Russell Crowe is filming "Fathers & Daughters" here, in which he plays a famous and successful writer who wins a Pulitzer Prize, so we looked for him in the late-night hours hoping to get some tips on how to pretend to be a famous and successful writer who wins a Pulitzer Prize.

We checked in every bar in Pittsburgh -- man, there are lots of them -- with no luck. That's a shame, as we wanted to hand him some script ideas to ensure the authenticity of any film shot in Pittsburgh.

What we know about the story now is that Jake Davis, the novelist portrayed by Mr. Crowe, whose literary agent is played by Jane Fonda, is a widower who lost his wife in a car accident and has suffered from mental illness. He is navigating a complicated relationship with his adult daughter, Katie, who is studying to be a psychologist.

If Mr. Crowe or director Gabriele Muccino is reading, you might want to consider these realistic Pittsburgh-centric tweaks for the story line:

Jake is researching a new novel about land banking, which involves many excruciating trips to city council meetings. He is troubled afterward by anxiety, hallucinations, dementia and really bad singing on the level of Javert from "Les Miserables."

He visits UPMC's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic for treatment, but to get inside must pass through a line of pickets headed by Ms. Fonda's character, who has organized a protest against both U.S. aggression in the Mideast and UPMC's wages to its lower-level employees.

Jake ends up being evaluated, by coincidence, by his own daughter, who is seeing patients as part of work on her Ph.D. He doesn't recognize her because of his delirium, and Katie doesn't recognize him because she is obsessing over the money being drained from her credit cards as a result of someone who has hacked personal data from UPMC's computers.

Trying to get rid of Jake so she can straighten out her finances, she tells him his Highmark insurance is unacceptable. She suggests, if he is a veteran, he should pursue treatment through the Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs health system. This prospect frightens him, and he begins walking around bitterly cold Pittsburgh in a deep depression, as a mournful new Joe Grushecky tune, "Potholed Streets of Pittsburgh," plays on the soundtrack.

Jake visits a South Side bar where he finds numerous Steelers both harassing customers and being harassed by them. When he announces himself as a Ravens fan, his problems worsen, as bar patrons, Steelers and the off-duty police officers working there all take turns pounding him.

He awakens bloodied in an alley the next day to find Ms. Fonda's character nearby leading another protest, this time against the county's contracts to allow gas drilling under its property. She helps him home, on the condition that he donate all future royalties from his prize-winning book to the anti-fracking movement.

When he gets home, Jake and Katie recognize one another this time. He tells her he is thinking of entering a primary election for governor, because he would be the only candidate from Western Pennsylvania and thus has a chance of winning, regardless of his inadequate preparations.

Katie talks him out of it, explaining she might cost him votes because she has just come out of the closet as lead plaintiff in an ACLU suit aimed at simultaneously overturning Pennsylvania's gay marriage ban, voter ID law and deer-hunting season.

Jake mulls suicide on the Roberto Clemente Bridge while staring at a giant artificial duck below and majestic bald eagles sweeping into the water nearby. He finally realizes his life has purpose when he receives a cell phone call telling him a court-appointed conservator has accepted his bid to take over the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

The conservator loved his plan to convert the center into an old-style produce terminal, with a hotel on top that would cater specifically to Furries.

In the closing scene, Jake, Katie and the literary agent/protester/exercise guru stand on a platform at the Point State Park fountain announcing to a crowd their plan to host an event there that would have lots of music, boat races, unhealthy food, arts and crafts, sweaty people, high parking prices and fireworks.

Before they conclude, however, a gusty storm roars down the Ohio River, toppling the platform and killing Jake. In his last words to his daughter, he pleads for her to return to do a sequel, but only if Pennsylvania continues offering sufficient filmmaking tax credits.


Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.

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