Mystic Pizza (1988): Julia Roberts Shines in Ensemble Piece

This charming coming-age tale, the first film from director Daniel Petrie, centers on the rites of passage of three small-town girls, winningly played by Annabeth Gish, Lili Taylor, and particularly Julia Roberts.

Laced with heart, soul, and humor, “Mystic Pizza” is familiar fare in terms of place and dramatic situations, but the characters are relatively new in Hollywood pictures, being Portuguese-American. It’s to the credit of the screenwriter Amy Holden Jones, Perry Hoze, and Alfred Uhry (who would script the Oscar-winning “Driving Miss Daisy” a year later) that they find the right balance between the genuine emotional and the schmaltzy, between the particular and universal.

The director and his writers offer warm, funny glimpses into the lives and loves of the young women, who are about to cross into adulthood, forever leaving adolescence behind. The Connecticut town of Mystic Pizza is portrayed as a decent place to live, though protags, like most small-town heroines, can’t wait to leave the place and move on with their lives. Most residents hold low-paying, routine jobs. One girl’s mother works on a pier, putting rubber bands on the claws of lobsters

The three women are employed as waitresses at the pizza parlor, owned by a severe proprietor (Conchata Ferrell), where they develop intimate camaraderie. While slinging pizza, we get to know the beautiful Daisy (Julia Roberts), her level-headed sister Kat (Annabeth Gish), and their tougher, wisecracking friend Jojo Barboza (Lili Taylor). All three go through love affairs and romantic crises typical of their age.

The tale begins with a wedding at which Jojo gets into a panicky mode just about when she’s heading toward the altar. Though she loves Bill (Vincent D’Onofrio), a fisherman, she’s less excited about the idea of being a married woman. The story then follows the ups and downs of Bill and Jojo’s courtship, which has made Bill a laughing stock.

As played by Julia Roberts, who’s bound to become a star, Daisy is the town’s gorgeous girl, who attracts just about any man she meets, including the rich but initially strange and unworthy Charlie (Adam Storke). Daisy’s sis Kate, a hard-working girl aspiring to go to college, preferably the neighboring Yale, is hired by a father (William R. Moses), who happens to be married.

There are no major surprises in the storytelling, but it’s a small, pleasant enough indie, in which director Petrie (who won the Spirit Award for First Feature) finds the proper, low-key approach to turn all the characters, winners and losers, seem fresher and more appealing than they must have been on paper.

In his film debut, Matt Damon has a small part, only one line: “Mom, do you want my green stuff?” while eating lobster at a dinner party.


Annabeth Gish as Kat Arujo

Julia Roberts as Daisy Arujo

Lili Taylor as Jojo Barboza

Vincent D’Onofrio as Bill (billed as Vincent Phillip D’Onofrio)

William R. Moses as Tim Travers

Adam Storke as Charles Gordon Windsor, Jr.

Conchata Ferrell as Leona

Joanna Merlin as Mrs. Arujo

Porscha Radcliffe as Phoebe Travers

Arthur Walsh as Manny

John Fiore as Jake

Matt Damon as Steamer