In my last Vault Review, I featured one of Tom Hanks’ earlier films in honor of the release of his latest, Larry Crowne. I would be remiss to walk away from my Larry Crowne theme without taking a similar look at the humble beginnings of his costar, Julia Roberts.
While Julia now earns a salary of $20,000,000 per picture, such was not the case back in the day . She was reportedly paid only $50,000 for her role in Mystic Pizza. Julia Roberts, alongside Annabeth Gish and Lili Taylor, star as young, Portuguese-American women working as waitresses at Mystic Pizza in Mystic, Connecticut.. Gish and Roberts portray sisters Kat and Daisy Arujo. Kat’s the good daughter who’s constantly working to save money to supplement her Yale scholarship. Daisy is the wild child who’s constantly working to get laid and, hopefully, find a man heading far away from the fishing town. Love comes knocking for the Arujo sisters as their friend, JoJo (Lili Taylor), vacillates over her relationship with Bill (Vincent D’Onofrio).
I was never much of a Julia Roberts fan in my teen years. I’m guessing I only watched Mystic Pizza back in the day because Lili Taylor was cute and her character, JoJo, was a bit of a slut. It may also have been because D’Onofrio was so awesome as Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket that I wanted to see him in something else. All I know for certain is I had forgotten nearly everything about it. Seeing it now I can appreciate how great the performances are; Kat’s bright-eyed infatuation, JoJo’s inner turmoil, Bill’s frustration, and Daisy’s tough talking ways. Heck, the scenes shared between Daisy and her affluent boyfriend, Charlie (Adam Storke), seems like the possible inspiration for Pretty Woman, though not likely.
No matter how proficient their acting, the one thing Roberts, Gish and Taylor didn’t pull off is their Portuguese-American heritage. Several times the dialogue references their ethnicity, but it doesn’t sink in no matter how many times Mystic Pizza owner, Leona (Conchata Ferrell), says it. I blame the subsequently successful careers of these actresses for shattering that illusion.
Director Don Petrie does a fine job of balancing the three tales of love in Mystic Pizza. With recent comedies fixating on one woman’s search for love and the wacky situations they encounter in its pursuit, it is refreshing to see a story reflect on shared experiences among friends. By no means does Mystic Pizza revolutionize the coming-of-age romance, but it offers up a fun, small town story without insulting the viewer with a syrupy, unbelievable resolution.
Just like you don’t go to your favorite hole-in-the-wall for the decor or its fancy cuisine, you don’t revisit Mystic Pizza for its wonderful cinematography or enthralling story. You go to enjoy simple things prepared by people who know how to serve it up right every time. In his critique of Mystic Pizza, Roger Ebert commented it “may someday become known for the movie stars it showcased back before they became stars.” When the man’s right, he’s right (Though I wonder if Ebert included Matt Damon’s bit role as part of that showcase!).