Mystic Pizza
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Mystic Pizza

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There are some movies that are fondly remembered by the public. In the case of Mystic Pizza most remember the film as the movie that launched the career of Julia Roberts. It did far more than that. It was the means to introduce the public to several bright young stars of new Hollywood. Among them are Lili Taylor, Annabeth Gish and Vincent D’Onofrio. Mystic Pizza is an emotionally driven film, concentrating on the lives of three young girls in that special summer after high school but before taking on life as an adult. The film starts with Jo-Jo (Taylor) fainting at her wedding upon hearing how marriage is a lifelong commitment. She loves her boyfriend Bill (D’Onofrio) but she fears her future of being a fisherman’s wife surrounded by children. Mystic is a seaport where such a fate is common place for the locals. Daisy (Roberts) is bent on marrying well and leaving Mystic. She is the ‘pretty’ one of the group and knows that she has little going for her except her ambition and her looks. She latches on to a black sheep rich boy (Adam Storke) hoping for love or at least something different from the local boys. Daisy’s sister Kat (Gish) is the quite, studious type. She has received a partial scholarship to Yale and is working several jobs to help pay her way. Kat is into astronomy and hopes to become an astronomer upon graduation from Yale. Kat finds herself babysitting for a 30 year old Yale grad, Tim (William R. Moses). Kat has a natural way with people and Tim’s four-year-old daughter and Kat are soon bonding. Trouble is Kat is falling for Tim whose wife is in England. The daughter openly states that her parents are not getting a divorce but just the use of that word by one so young seems to give Kat hope for a relationship with Tim. The three girls work for a local pizza place, The Mystic Pizza (duh), which is run by an older woman (Conchata Ferrell). She is kept going by pride in the family pizza recipe that has been passed down through the generations. Now, she is the end of the line and wants one of the girls to carry on for her. Along the way in this film we see class bigotry when rich boy Charlie brings Daisy home to the folks. We also get a look at how trapped many people feel by the town and situation they are born into.

Although this film is at the start of the careers of many of the cast the potential for greatness is evident. Robert as the free spirited Daisy is wonderful. I can see how she got the role of Shelby in Steel Magnolias. Her character here is a slightly wilder version of Shelby but the talent Roberts has pulls of the role and makes a potentially unsympathetic character one we can actually care about. Taylor shines in the role of Jo-Jo. A touch of wild mixed with a naïve makes for an excellent portrait of a young woman beginning life in a place where she feels there is only existence. The real star of the film is Gish. Her performance is the best in the show. The girl teased by her sister as being a saint starting to feel desires and emotions she has always kept in check. As you watch this movie you will most likely fall into the same frame of mind I did, comparing the work to the future films these actors have been in. I watched the film a second time forcing those thoughts from my mind, just enjoying the performances for the gems they are, not as the starting point for even better films. You can even catch a quick glimpse of Matt Damon as Charlie’s kid brother during an explosive scene when the little rich boy brings his ‘Portagee’ girl home for dinner.

The director Donald Petrie has had an eclectic career. He started directing in the mid eighties with such TV shows as the Equalizer, Amazing Stories MacGyver and L.A. Law. Pizza was his real freshman effort for a major film. His more recent films include Richie Rich, Grumpy Old Men, My Favorite Martian and the current hit, Miss Congeniality. Petrie has a real fell for small time life. He’s not much for second unit shots of the sea or the town. He focuses on the characters and in doing so he presents an intimate portrait of these young women. There are some real gem moments in this film. I’m sure as you watch you will find many that will touch you. He takes a premise that may sound less than interesting on paper and makes it into a film that will hold on to you long after it is over. Petrie has a style as a director that makes him a natural for telling this type of story. It is easy going, smoothly moving from one scene to the next like a grandfather spinning a tale surrounded by his grand kids. Even if a romantic story is not usually something that appeals to you this film will hold your attention. Part of this is how it manages to blend comedy, drama and a dollop of romance in what is fundamentally a female oriented coming of age story. This is a period of time in as person’s life that may be experienced along gender lines but ultimately it is a point of commonality for both sexes. This is also one of those movies that represented the changing of the guard in Hollywood. Several of the young performers just embarking on their careers can be seen here. Beside A Lists stars like Roberts and Damon Gish and D’Onofrio would go on to careers as highly sought after character actors with well established performances on both the big and small screens.

This slice of life movie has been available for some time now but recently was selected to be in the latest wave of high definition classic releases by MGM. The Blu-ray of this film is remarkable. It has long been one of my favorites but getting into this edition was like seeing it for the first time. The sets and costumes are rich in colors and tenures providing an underlying sense of reality that warmly enfolds you. An excellent story has received a new lease on life and is ready to entertain a new generation of film buffs.

Posted 04/15/11

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