Hidden Gem: Mystic Pizza

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Released in 1988, Donald Petrie’s Mystic Pizza is probably most notable now for starring pre-fame Julia Roberts in her second credited film role. It’s also Matt Damon’s screen debut – he has two lines as the gloriously snotty Steamer – but there is much more to love about Mystic Pizza beyond showcasing the early talent of two huge stars. The film has gained a significant cult following for good reason; it is a really funny coming-of-age teen movie with complex characters and stunning scenery.

Following the lives of two sisters and their friend working at the titular pizza parlour, the film at first appears to be focused on the characters love lives, but slowly reveals itself to be a study of the paralysing moments of being a young adult trying to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life. This treads a dangerous road – there have been so many coming-of-age movies convinced of their own importance, sucking all of the fun out of their stories and characters. Yet, Mystic Pizza almost never feels manufactured or staged. It is full of small character moments that make the friendships and setting feel lived in and real.

The dialogue is authentic and witty, without being overly glib, and the young people contemplating their futures never becomes too pretentious. The friendship between Kat (Annabeth Gish), Daisy (Julia Roberts) and Jojo (Lili Taylor) is the real highlight. As they reckon with their intertwined lives splitting apart, the girls antagonise and support each other in equal measure. It is infinitely relatable – to the point where you feel that you too could have been a pizza delivery girl in small-town Connecticut in the ’80s, with amazing hair and an overbearing Catholic mother.

Gish and Taylor both do excellent work, embodying the confusion and determination of being a young woman, but Roberts is the true star as the rebellious teenager Daisy. Two years before Pretty Woman, Roberts manages to perfectly nail Daisy’s palpable frustration about being stuck in a small town with no prospects, constantly compared to her smarter, milder sister. There are several moments where Daisy is ungrateful, selfish and reckless, yet Roberts still manages to get the audience to root for her – balancing her performance between solemn introspection and magnetic energy. Daisy is an intricately drawn character and, in many ways, the raw heart of the film.

There are a couple of moments where Mystic Pizza shows its age, including a questionable romantic subplot between teen Kat and the married, thirty-something father she babysits for. Unequivocally optimistic, at times it leans toward being a little contrived. Despite these minor flaws, Mystic Pizza is a whole lot of fun and the perfect escapist film for a spring evening. At the time of writing, it’s available to watch on Netflix!

Watch the trailer for Mystic Pizza below:

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