Starring: Julia Roberts, Annabeth Gish, Lili Taylor
Director: Donald Petrie
Running Time: 104 mins
Mystic Pizza is an American film about three young women living in a sleepy fishing town, and how they grow up through their various romantic escapades.
As both a breakout film for Julia Roberts and having acquired somewhat of a cult following over the last 30 years, I went into Mystic Pizza with moderately high expectations. Now, while the film does well to offer something a little different to the typical 80s coming-of-age fare, with a smaller-scale setting and a degree more of dramatic gravitas, I really didn’t take to Mystic Pizza at all, as a result of a lack of genuinely likable characters, as well as often frustratingly dark and heavy drama that really makes it a less than pleasant film to watch.
First things first, however, let’s start with the positives, the biggest of which is the fact that Mystic Pizza has a very different atmosphere and style as a coming-of-age film to what we most often associate with the genre – particularly when it comes to the 1980s. It’s not a high school movie, and it’s not a teen angst film either. Instead, this is a much more mature coming-of-age film that, while featuring humour and fun romantic escapades throughout, is a lot more focused on more serious matters of the heart when growing up.
As a result, for those who can really relate to the story at hand – young women struggling to find stability in both their personal and romantic lives – this film certainly has the gravitas to really captivate your attention and even spark a few memories of the past. It’s not quite the brilliant universal coming-of-age story that a number of other films (The Breakfast Club, Stand By Me and more) tell, but it does have its value when it comes to a more serious and specific story of growing up.
Another good point about Mystic Pizza is that it’s not a high school movie. That’s no deliberate slight against all high school movies, but it is a genre that’s been played to death over the years, whereas Mystic Pizza take place on a much smaller scale that opens up the opportunity for more intimate character development. Now, the film doesn’t quite take that opportunity in the end, but what it does do is tell an impressively grounded story that features all the same tropes and beats as a high school coming-of-age tale, but without the awkward, sometimes juvenile presence of teen angst and high school social hierarchies.
With all that said, however, I still don’t think that Mystic Pizza is a particularly strong film, and despite its impressive divergence from a genre formula that can feel very uniform at times, it doesn’t use its originality to full effect at any point, struggling to really captivate or even simply entertain as a result of overly dark drama and a lack of purely likable and thereby relatable characters.
As I said, the story here isn’t the most universal coming-of-age tale out there, so your response to the film will waver depending on your own personal experiences, but the film’s lack of relatability also comes in part from its lack of real likability.
Of course, as a more serious and mature affair, there’s no need for the film to be full of big laughs and high antics throughout, but what it fails to do is blend its attempts at comedy and more uplifting storytelling with its darker side, making for a frustrating and unpleasant imbalance in which the darker drama almost always seems to win out.
If the film were more pointedly dark, and aimed to give a more critical view of the struggles of growing up, and the state of love and relationships in the modern day, then I could have bought into its more serious atmosphere better. However, with moments of sillier humour throughout, as well as the lingering knowledge that the film is a coming-of-age story, and not trying to tell an emotionally devastating tale, it’s difficult to really accept that darker style, something that unfortunately plays a large role in making Mystic Pizza an often unpleasant and rather unlikable watch.
Overall, I was disappointed by Mystic Pizza. It may have good talent on display, and also shows off a different side to the coming-of-age genre to what we typically expect, but it’s far from the world’s most likable or most powerful story of growing up, struggling with often overly serious drama and an unpleasantly dark atmosphere that ultimately makes it a film that’s difficult to really like and relate to, which is why I’m giving it a 6.7.