Film #7: Mystic Pizza
Mystic Pizza, the Rise of Julia Roberts
Today we are taking a look at Mystic Pizza. The film was directed by Donald Petrie (Grumpy Old Men, Miss Congeniality) and stars Julia Roberts, Lili Taylor, and Annabeth Gish. It was written by Amy Holden Jones.
The story is a coming-of-age tale about 3 young women who are all facing major life choices while working in a small Connecticut fishing town at Mystic Pizza, a legendary establishment. Jo Jo (Taylor) is dealing the fall out from passing out in the middle of her wedding, which was then called off. Despite the false start for her marriage, she is still consumed with burning love for her fiance, Bill. Bill is played with gusto by a young Vincent D'Onofrio, who has always been one of my favorite actors since the days of Adventures in Baby-Sitting and Stuart Saves his family....don't judge me, it is a solid comedy. Daisy(Roberts) is coming to terms with the reality that she will probably live and die in Mystic and fills her life with random men to numb the pain. Kat (Gish) is heading to Yale in the spring, so her life is filled with taking as many jobs as she can to pay the tuition. Kat and Daisy are sisters, and Kat is clearly favored by her mother for her goals and drive. Their mother seems to see a bit too much of her own "Mystic" life in Daisy; lashing her with doubt and criticism.
The movie opens at the failed wedding and an interesting visual perspective from the bride's veil. It then moves forward in time to introduce us to the pizza place and the girls' lives. In the first pizza scene we learn everything we need to know about the girls; where they are heading and where they have been. Jo Jo's life is teetering on the edge as she tries to convince Bill they don't need marriage to be together and Bill fights back against her by trying to be the moral center of the relationship. Check out the scene in her living room when they are being watched over by a glowing Jesus to see Taylor and D'Onofrio at their finest.
Meanwhile, Daisy meets and begins a relationship with a yuppie Yale dropout, played by Adam Storke in a "I have seen that guy before" role. It stressed me out until I realized I had seen him in The Stand. So great! Stroke and Roberts spend a great deal of the film dealing with Daisy's hang ups about their differences. The roles are reversed at a memorable family dinner which features a young Matt Damon in his first role with one line. Sidenote- Damon and "hey it's that guy" John Cunningham play Ivy League father and son again in another memorable rich vs poor dinner scene in School Ties...I had tingles. Roberts especially shines in a country club scene that involves betrayal, fish, and a red Porsche.
Kat takes on the job of a baby sitter for a young architect who is fascinated by her love of music, books, and astronomy. Kismet occurs, as she also works part time at the planetarium. Did I mention that he is married?...ruh-roh Shaggy. The film wraps up each relationship story-line in pretty expected ways , a very Shakespearean resolution of multiple plots
As an adult male, am I allowed to love "chick flicks"? Who am I kidding? I eat these films up.(Wedding Planner, Head over Hills, Devil Wears Prada) I really, really liked this film. Much like the Mystic Pizza place, the offering is satisfying in a mysterious way. At first, I was like "oh come on, it is so obvious where this story is headed"...in fact, numerous times in the past, I have turned this movie off because I could not tell the difference between Mystic Pizza and Satisfaction, another 1988 film with Ms. Roberts. I apologize to Ms Taylor, Ms Roberts, and Ms Gish that I ever turned it off. This movie is filled with some pretty fresh dialog and memorable scenes. Plus, all of the inside jokes I have seen about Mystic Pizza in various TV shows (Gilmore Girls, Parks and Rec, 30 Rock) now make sense.
Normally, I am wary of a "girls coming of age" film because they can be so overloaded with weak female characters who "need" a man and end up even weaker then they started at the beginning of the film. I think what really sticks out in Mystic Pizza is the strength of the female characters. The men are living in Daisy, Jo Jo, and Kat's world, not the other way around. In fact, in the end it does not matter if the men came back or not. The women still have each other. I would argue that this is what makes satisfying male coming of age stories (Stand by Me, American Pie, Diner) so enchanting; in the end it's just about friendship. In the past few years it would seem that Hollywood is also coming to this conclusion.(Bridesmaids, Frozen) This feeling for me also comes from having a daughter and fearing that the world will try and take away her independence through its one sided cultural offerings.
Historically, this film does represent the Generation X girls who came of age in the post feminist revolution. In fact, in the late 1980's we begin to see the first group of females who will enjoy the benefits of the equality that their mothers fought for in the 60's and 70's. So, another reason to watch Mystic Pizza is for its representation of that new ethic: demure/passive girl vs new modern, make-my-own-choices woman. Mystic Pizza is an interesting sociological statement about the position of women in the late 80's if you really peer deeper into the film. The "stop reading into it" crowd is now rolling their eyes.
Maybe you have heard of one of the main actors of Mystic Pizza, Julia Roberts? I enjoyed seeing her at the beginning of her career before she was "Julia Roberts". I like to imagine that her character Anna's sadness in Notting Hill was built on drawing from Roberts' own past when she making movies like this; before the paychecks, the studio demands, and the lack of privacy. Roberts is just pure ease in this role. Again, I refer to the scene at the country club or the scene where she works to gain her mother's adoration by informing her of the date with Charles' family. Julia's use of pain from her mother's rejection is a great piece of acting.
Annabeth Gish and Lily Taylor were also illuminating. I have always believed that Gish and Taylor have both never gotten the accolades and fame they deserve. Gish drew me to her talented nature the first time I saw Shag.Mental thought; where is Pheobe Cates these days? In Mystic Pizza she rips your heart apart when what she believes to be real, turns out to be a lie. I can't say more. As far as Taylor, what self respecting fan of Say Anything doesn't want to sing "Joe lies when he cries" every time she appears on screen? Taylor is so real and raw in her performances. The performances of both Gish and Taylor are not forced, not over emotional, they just play. It is so refreshing, in age of "get louder as I get more emotional" Disney trained starlets, to see real drama done on such real terms.
Lastly, the supporting cast in this is also fantastic. I am a sucker for good ensemble casting,and everyone in here adds the spice to the pizza; D'Onofrio as the man who only wants marriage, Conchata Ferrell (pre Charlie Sheen television age) is the boss everyone wants, Joanna Merlin, Storke, William Moses, and on and on. The names may not be A list, but these are actors with steady resumes and steady meaningful work. They show how much they love their characters and what they do. Also, the cinematography makes me want to live in Connecticut. Overall, a great movie, not built around one single star or character. It is built on heart, good writing, good direction, great talent, and the love of location film making. It is a great testament to a time in American history,post social/Reagan revolution, where we were questioning class traditions, gender traditions, and the rules of a post modern society.
Fun thought; Do you think Matt Damon and Julia Roberts talked about how far they both have come from when he only had one line?
9 stars from the 88 project!
PS Film #7: still no Andrew McCarthy...what is up with that?
Here is what Roger Ebert had to say about Mystic Pizza in 1988