Mystic Pizza (1988)

24 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Mystic Pizza” is a coming-of-age story featuring three young women who fall in love. It’s usually in movies like this where young people meet somebody attractive and go through many lengths to get what they want, but in “Mystic Pizza,” they don’t merely fall in love; they learn about their own standards for love. It’s a nice, well-acted movie that deals realistically with these issues, but with a certain charm that keeps it from containing a gritty feel.

The title “Mystic Pizza” refers to the local pizzeria in a fishing town called Mystic, Connecticut. The three central characters work there as waitresses—Daisy Arujo (Julia Roberts), her sister Kat (Annabeth Gish), and their friend Jojo (Lili Taylor). Their boss is the sassy but friendly Leona (Conchata Farrell), whose pizza contains a special secret sauce that has people coming for more—she won’t even tell her employers what’s in the sauce. (We never find out, either.)

The girls have their own adventures/issues with romance. As the movie begins, Jojo is about to be married to her loving boyfriend Bill (Vincent Philip D’Onofrio) when she passes out from stress right there at the altar. She loves Bill, but just isn’t ready for a big commitment, like he is. (Huh—that’s also a change in the movies. Usually, it’s the guy that won’t commit.) As the movie continues, she tries to romance Bill many times, but Bill believes that they should wait til marriage before they get physical. Would Jojo stoop so low as to marry Bill just to have sex with him? Actually, no. But she would like more passion in their relationship.

Daisy is playing pool and drinking beer at a local hangout when she notices Pretty Boy walking in and asking her to play a set with him. He’s rich, nice, handsome, and has the name Charles Gordon Windsor (Adam Storke). (Oh, and he can also shoot three dart bullseyes in a row after having shots of tequila.) He tells Daisy that he’s currently in law school, but eventually comes clean and says he was kicked out for cheating on a final. (Huh—no wonder he can shoot darts so well; he’s had time to practice.) Daisy is the most standoffish of the three women and possibly the more slutty, but she’s not dumb and can read people well. She takes a chance on this rich boy, but then she learns something she didn’t need to know about him, in a scene near the end when Charles actually stages a dramatic dinner scene with her invited to the family dinner—he accuses his family of being snobbish and actually pulls out the tablecloth from under the dishes. It’s then that Daisy notices that maybe Charles is just looking for someone to look up to him, which isn’t exactly what she needs.

Meanwhile, Kat is babysitting the daughter of a 30-year-old Yale graduate named Tim (William R. Moses). He’s a nice, smart man whom Kat falls in love with, which can cause problems because not only is he twelve years older than her, but he’s also married. The wife isn’t around, so she won’t have to worry about it until later. But she does restrain herself from expressing her feelings towards him. He starts to like her too, for her intelligence (she’s been accepted at Yale). However, by the time she comes home, she realizes she doesn’t know how to handle the situation as it is.

“Mystic Pizza” follows these three couples through a long summer where everyone would just rather not be stuck in Mystic, but you make do with what you have. Lessons are learned, certain secrets are revealed, and hearts are broken. What Kat, Daisy, and Jojo learn is that they have each other and their job at the pizzeria.

The acting is wonderful, especially by the three lead actresses. Lili Taylor displays a comic presence in the way of her odd relationship with Bill—there’s human comedy in how she reacts to certain things, like how she nearly freaks out after Bill expresses his true feelings (she comes to work three hours early, and nervously unstacks the table chairs). Julia Roberts is a true beauty and has a fierce amount of energy—watch the scene in which she tries to imitate the hitchhiking scene from “It Happened One Night”; it’s pure delight. Annabeth Gish is my favorite of the performers, portraying Kat with intelligence but also with a little vulnerability. The supporting cast is solid, but it’s Conchata Ferrell as the pizzeria owner and Louis Turenne as an uptight food critic who really shine.

“Mystic Pizza” is an interesting, nicely-handled drama with good performances and a lighthearted screenplay. It shows that love may not be easy, but at least you know what you want. It succeeds in delivering that message.

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