Mystic Pizza

MYSTIC PIZZA, from 1988, did just okay at the box-office, and got positive reviews, but those of us who saw it back then (the guys anyway) knew that Whoever That Girl Was, she had something extra. The actress in question was 20-year-old Julia Roberts, who walked away with this charmer, even with estimable competition from fresh new co-stars Annabeth Gish,16, and Lili Taylor, 20. They all excel in this disarming winner, the first (and best) feature directed Donald Petrie.

I don’t have to marry an asshole. It’s the ’80s.”

Working in a Mystic, Connecticut pizza joint are ‘Daisy’ (Roberts), her younger sister ‘Kat’ (Gish), and their best friend ‘Jojo’ (Taylor). Jojo’s embarrassingly called off her marriage (passing out at the altar) to local fisherman ‘Bill’ (Vincent D’Onofrio) even though she’s nuts about him. Brassy knockout Daisy knocks yuppie swell ‘Charlie’ (Adam Storke) for a loop. He’s taken, but his 1% family might embrace a Daisy from The Great Gatsby but not some ‘Portagee’ upstart who slings pizzas. “Smart sister”, Yale-bound Kat, finds her babysitting job for visiting architect/married older man ‘Tim’ (William R. Moses) has her less-worldly emotions in a precarious position. Their boss ‘Leona’ (Conchata Farrell) wants her girls to get somewhere in life and hopes her pizza place can get some overdue regional recognition.

Amy Holden Jones sparked the story idea, then shared screenplay chores with Alfred Uhry, and the brother-sister team Perry & Randy Howse. It works to a tee because the writing doesn’t stoop, the situations don’t stray from plausibility.  We care about the characters, and feel their joy and confusion, hope and hurt. Plus, in the movieverse crammed with testosterone juiced buddy flicks, this was one of the first to allow young women to support one another rather than square off as rivals. That said, I recall seeing this back when with several friends and the consensus, other than it was a fun night at the movies, centered in on “who is that girl?” Just the next superstar.

The lived-in feel is conveyed by the background shooting in assorted Connecticut locations. Cogerson lists its gross at $12,800,000, which would put it 75th place in ’88, but the AFI Catalog boosts that to $14m. Anyway, it appears to have cleared its production cost of $6,000,000 and the $6,500,000 spent on prints and advertising. Had it come out in 1991, after Julia Roberts hit the stratosphere with Pretty Woman, it would have pumped up those figures ten-fold.

Along with propelling the three leads in their trajectories, Matt Damon made his debut here, age 16. With Joanna Merlin, Porscha Radcliffe and Louis Turenne (as the ‘Everyday Gourmet’). 104 minutes.


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