There has always been a place in the hearts of the moving going public for the coming of age story. You know the type; someone in their teens has a life changing night that helps usher them into the adult world. The basis of these films is the transitional period in our lives that typically came in the mid teens. Now with the economy in a state of general disarray and jobs more difficult to come by this transitional time period has grown to the late twenties and even the early thirties. Since one of the best features of film is how it reflects changes in the social structure now films are addressing these adults still searching for direction. The latest opus from writer-director Mark Christopher, ‘Pizza’, revisits the familiar theme of a pair of misfits trying to find their place in live.
As the film opens we meet Cara-Ethyl (Kylie Sparks) wearing a paper birthday crown and talking to herself in a variety of different voices. While at first it may seem that the girl is just a little bit crazy, moving hr head to different positions as she holds a conversation with herself, there is a somewhat rational explanation for this bizarre behavior. Cara-Ethyl is desperately trying to deceiver her mother, Darleen (Julie Hagerty). It is Cara-Ethyl’s eighteenth birthday party and no one as come to help her celebrate. Since Darleen was recently blinded in a freak donut frying accident she is unaware that her daughter is that unpopular. The cards seemed to be stacked against Cara-Ethyl. First of all she was given that unusual name as a homage to two of her mother’s television favorites; Irene Cara from ‘Fame’ and Ethyl Mertz from ‘I Love Lucy’. Cara-Ethyl is an intelligent, caring girl who happens to be overweight. This combination of circumstances has made her a pariah to all of the usual high school social circles. Instead of having her mother feel sorry for her, alone on the hallmark entrance into adulthood, she invents friends’ voices. Just as it look as if things could not get any worse the doorbell rings; it’s the pizza delivery guy. Standing there at her door holding the hot pies is Matt Firenze (Ethan Embry). While most people who deliver pizza are teenaged boys looking to make some gas money, Matt is over thirty. He notices the table set for a celebration that obviously never took place and strikes up a conversation with Cara-Ethyl. Matt is a social activist wannabe but like most aspects of his life it has not moved significantly beyond the talking stage. He belongs to such groups as the Green Party, Anti-Globalization Activism and Citizens against Madison Avenue. All of these groups seem to give him a reason for never actually defining his own life. When Darleen pokes her head in and Cara-Ethyl uses one of her voices to tell her that Matt is her boyfriend, Matt realizes just how lonely and isolated she actual is. He offers to hang out with Cara-Ethyl in his van for awhile, just to get her out of the house. It is not as if there is much to enjoy at home. She would just have to spend time with a blinded mother and her overly foul mouthed, obnoxious brother Frank (Martin Campetta). Cara-Ethyl begs Matt to take her on the rest of his rounds that night and he agrees. The pair set off to see what life is offering at least for that one night. Their first stop takes them to Matt’s roommate Jon (Joey Kern) who is underneath the very amorous Desire (Jessica Dunphy) when the walk in. Seeing a couple making out and assorted bongs strewn about gives Cara-Ethyl her first inkling that this is going to be one strange night. The numerous stops often go past the strange into the downright surreal such as when they stop off in a local eatery. Sitting there is Emily (Alexis Dziena) the most beautiful, and self absorbed girl in town. She sits there brushing her long brown hair tossing little balls of hair to the side, completely without regard for anyone else. Emily tries to humiliate Cara-Ethyl by making her pickup the hairball.
The thing I enjoy most about little, low budget independent films like this is even when they don’t fully succeed they at least made an effort to be imaginative. The film does not fulfill all of its potential but at least is gave it a good go. The one thing I found annoying is admittedly petty; was the overuse of pizza pie transitional graphics. It was cute at first but very soon became too reminiscent of the old Batman television series. The film is choppy but I would like to think that this was a decision made by the director. This night was an inconsistent ride of highs and lows for Cara-Ethyl so in that respect it worked for me. The scene where some kids pull a joke at Cara-Ethyl’s expense by having her sort some powered sugar was just out of place. It had such a contrived feel to it that is can pull the audience right out of the film. On the positive side is the premise may have been done many times before but this film gives a good twist. Matt is a slacker, he talks about social change and how pizza is like the Native American’s buffalo, providing all his needs. The speeches sound intellectual but there is absolutely no life experience to back the talk up. Cara-Ethyl is almost too pathetic for the audience to connect with. It may have worked better if she had a modicum of self esteem that the events of the night can reinforce.
The ancillary cast is does well here but the film is on the shoulders of the two leads. Kylie Sparks gives a wonderfully touching performance as Cara-Ethyl. She has the empathy necessary for the audience to care about this lonely girl. Even though her character starts out too low to believe Sparks gives the development arc that brings us to an ending that is satisfying to see. She also has a natural chemistry with her leading man. In the scene where she wants Matt to teach her to smoke there is an underlying humor that only comes from how the two interact. Ethan Embry is able to play the pseudo intellectual pizza man with a flip sense of dark comedy. He is a slacker and he knows it but true to slacker tradition doesn’t really care. It is a little creepy when he walks across the room naked in front of Cara-Ethyl but the rest of his performance makes up for it. He tries to be a discount bin Yoda dispensing sage advice but Cara-Ethyl is able to finally realize the source.
Genius Productions and the Independent Film Channel have become one of my favorite distributors of DVDs. Even when one of their films doesn’t fully hit the mark you can be sure that it is better than so much of the mindless films that are out there. They have been providing little gems that you may have not heard of but will be glad you watched. Pizza is such a film. It was a good watch, the acting was excellent, the direction interesting and the cinematography inventive. Shot on digital video it has a certain home video quality that is perfect for the story. The video is presented here in a matted letterbox that preserves the original aspect ratio. The Dolby stereo audio has a great channel separation that opens up the front of the sound field. There is an audio commentary track featuring the director and producer that gives some insight into the production and generally pats each other on the back. The making of featurette goes into some of the work needed to pull together a low budget film. The film has its faults but it is still a moving little film that will entertain.