Thursday 29 September 2011

Movie Review: Mystic Pizza (1988)

A small movie with a big heart, Mystic Pizza is most famous as Julia Roberts' earliest prominent role. It also happens to be a charming coming-of-age story with three engaging central performances.

Sisters Kat (Annabeth Gish) and Daisy (Roberts) work at the Mystic Pizza restaurant in the small fishing town of Mystic, Connecticut. Jojo (Lili Taylor) is their co-worker and friend, and the three help the earthy owner Leona (Conchata Ferrell) keep the place going while figuring out their futures.

Kat is the smart sister, and already has an acceptance to Yale. She takes on an extra job as a babysitter, and is soon infatuated by her employer: Tim (William R. Moses) is a hunky architect, much older than Kat, and is all the more attractive because he is perhaps having marital problems.

Daisy has looks to kill, and has therefore never bothered to find out if she is as smart as her sister, cultivating instead a reputation as a bed-hopper. Daisy enters into a relationship with the very rich Charles (Adam Storke), and soon finds out that a lot of money could mean a lot of family problems. Jojo faints at the altar, just before her marriage to Bill (Vincent Phillip D'Onofrio) is about to be made official. Bill is an earnest lobster fisherman, and is eager to get married and settle down. After her fainting incident Jojo is not so sure: she can predict her future with Bill, and wonders if she should strive for more.

Kat, Daisy and Jojo are memorable and well-rounded characters, and the script (a four-way collaboration) gives all three enough screen time to mature into believable people with realistic small-town struggles. Kat is the brainiac goody two-shoes, carrying the burden of being responsible to the point that she never expects herself to do anything impulsive. With her exit out of Mystic and into Yale already secure, Kat's challenge is to step outside of who she is to discover if there are any emotional risks worth taking.

Her sister Daisy is the good-time girl, close to reaching for the title of town slut, and she knows it. Daisy has decided that her physical charms are her ticket out of Mystic, but she has also arrived at the blind alley where being used and being cared for melt into the same puddle.

Jojo is almost sure that her fate is to stay in Mystic, and much as she hates to admit it, she has stumbled onto the true love who will actually make her long term life in the small town tolerable. Jojo has to weigh the benefits of early but true commitment against the unknowns that will erupt with the decision to reject a man who worships the ground she walks on.

While Julia Roberts sparkles as Daisy, her dominant, effervescent personality filling the screen with sass and charisma, Annabeth Gish and Lili Taylor share the spotlight with bravado. Gish finds the quiet uncertainty within Kat as she fights an internal battle against a life consigned to predictable conformity. Taylor is humorously open with Jojo's insecurities, a feisty, talkative fireball made of equal parts doubt and resolve.

Director Donald Petrie brings the best out of his actresses and the small fishing town locations, but does not avoid all the cliches: Kat is a budding astronomer, and there are some unnecessary eye-roll worthy scenes of star gazing and opportunely timed shooting stars. Some bites of Mystic Pizza may be a bit extra cheesy, but overall, the toppings are delectable, spicy and most satisfying.

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