Mystic Pizza

"A romantic comedy with the works."

(1988)

starring Julia Roberts, Lili Taylor and Annabeth Gish

80's Movie Guide
Julia Roberts, Lili Taylor, Annabeth Gish, Vincent D'Onofrio and William Moses star in MYSTIC PIZZA
PODCAST:  
'80s Movies: A Guide to What's Wrong with Your Parents - 
MYSTIC PIZZA: Slut Shamey Flick Marks Marriage-Can-Wait Movement
mystic pizza riley roberts slice of heaven julia roberts movie critic

The autumn after high school graduation, three young women who work at a local pizzeria in a fishing village in Connecticut try to figure out their relationships and their future.

Why it’s rad:

80's Movie Guide
  1. Julia Roberts. Her star power explodes in this film - and the entertainment industry took notice.

  2. "Coming of age" films are sometimes an eyeroll, especially in the '80s, but the authentic female dialogue and the phenomenal chemistry between the cast makes this little film about three girls in a pizza place soar.  

  3. The film launched the careers of its top stars: Lili Taylor, Annabeth Gish, Julia Roberts, Conchata Ferrell ("Two and a Half Men"), director Donald Petrie (Miss Congeniality), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days), and screenwriter Amy Jones (Indecent Proposal, the Beethoven movies).

So '80s:

80's Movie Guide
mystic pizza bad photoshop

“I don’t have to marry an a**hole, it’s the ‘80s!” - Jojo...

...after Bill publicly shames her by renaming his boat "Nympho" (a slut-shaming word that disappeared with the turn of the millennium).

Daisy's fantastically enormous perm.

Photoshop was created in the summer of 1988. The opening credits display what is definitely some Gen 1.0 terrible Photoshopping to make Lili Taylor, Julia Roberts, and Annabeth Gish look like three girls who grew up together.

Kat rides her scooter to get around the Mystic area without a helmet. 

Those Kodak cameras at the wedding! 

Local news programs used to have a restaurant critic (and a movie critic, which is more and more rare).

In the New York Times review, Julia Roberts was described as “voluptuous.” If you don’t understand how being thin-thin-thin was in, then realize that today voluptuous is a flattering word for “on the fatter side” but in the ‘80s, it meant one thing: boobs.

What’s your damage?

80's Movie Guide

In many ways, Mystic Pizza is the exception to the rule of how damaging '80s movies could be for teen girls because the film is about young women contemplating their future. Despite the offensive marketing (see trailer above), the film is really about the scariest time for a teen: high school is over, adulthood has officially begun, so now what?

Thirty years later, very few American girls are contemplating marriage at this age and the '80s were the decade where this started changing. It's also the decade where the question to high schoolers switched from, "are you going to college?" to "where are you going to college?" When Daisy's mother tells her daughter she's worried about her, and Daisy admits she's also worried about her future, that's the summation of the whole film.

Mystic Pizza passes the Bechdel test (contains 1. at least two women who 2. talk to each other 3. about something other than a man), but all three of their stories revolve around a man. Will Jojo marry Bill (or talk about something other than Bill)? Will wrong-side-of-the-tracks and "wrong ethnicity" Daisy and rich Aryan princely f-up Charlie survive the odds? Will Yalies Kat and Tim fall in love, Tim leave his wife, Kat become Mrs. Travers and Phoebe's stepmom and all live happily ever after? 

The film gives the veneer of the girls being independent '80s women, but in the end, (*SPOILER*), they're no different than Cinderella: their futures become secure because of men (and a "fairy godmother"). Jojo marries Bill and it's clear Leona will give her the pizza parlor when she retires. Even with Daisy breaking up with Charlie and making it clear she'll be fine without him and his money, he comes around; the audience know she'll be financially secure and the spitfire of the country club as Mrs. Charles Gordon Windsor, Jr. Kat's bad experience with Izod Dad ensures her future: the burn gave her maturity and jaded wisdom as she steps into the rest of her life; she will become an astronomer and work at NASA, unlikely to fall into another fantasy romance. 

While it might be more responsible if one of the girls wasn't focused on romance (for instance, what if Daisy was trying to do Leona's accounting and took a computer course? Or, in trying to get the Fireside Gourmet to review Mystic Pizza, found she had a knack with public relations?), it's not necessarily unrealistic. 

In the 1980s, young women's lives often did circulate around potential romance. Society applied pressure to have a boyfriend. Talking about boys was a primary source of conversation. The question is: did societal expectations put that on teen girls, is that just naturally what teen girls want to talk about, or did media and entertainment pummel young women with the message that their value was as an accessory to a male? 

It's hard to ignore that Mystic Pizza is also about three young women with no hang-ups about sex. Finding three women who felt like that in the late '80s seems less realistic.

The most promiscuous girl is the oldest among the friends, that makes sense. The pendulum swung hard on sex in the 1980s. At the beginning of the decade, sexual attitudes evolved out of the swinging '60s and '70s - it was a free for all. In the mid-80s, AIDS was a huge pail of ice cold water on the population. The Reagan administration and the Religious Right swung the pendulum the other way toward conservatism, and *boom*, let the slut-shaming begin. In fact, note how much slut-shaming occurs in the film amongst a tight group: Daisy's mom to Daisy, Kat to Daisy, and God bless Daisy for owning it.

Bill renames his boat "Nympho" as a dig to Jojo. She's more angry at his attempt to humiliate her than actually embarrassed. An 18-year-old who loves having sex with her true love in the context of a long-term monogamous relationship - that's accurate, responsible and refreshing! Bill and Jojo's storyline is a joy to watch because it's so unlike what has normally been portrayed on screen. Moviegoers aren't presented with many men who will withhold sex as a means to make their woman appreciate them. 

Then, there's Kat, the 18-year-old who loses her heart, virginity and innocence to a 30-year-old married father.  The fact is, most women have been Kat at some point. Hopefully not hooking up with a married man, but getting involved with a cad -- been there, done that. She rips up the check from Tim in the end - she doesn't need his money! But, of course, she does need the money to pay for Yale. Luckily, fairy godmother Leona steps in to cover it.

By the way, even Leona's storyline revolves around a man. Nonsexual, of course, but Leona longs for the attention of the Fireside Gourmet and ultimately, the food critic's approval. Again, this is historically accurate since restaurant critics were and still are mostly male. But, it doesn't make the assessment any less true.

The lead characters are real. It's the trio of them together that is problematic. It's all three of their male-motivated stories combined without anyone having a non-gotta-have-a-man plot that continued to push the idea that a woman's value is connected to her appeal to men. 

Behind the Scenes

80's Movie Guide
mystic pizza real life location

AMY HOLDEN JONES WROTE MYSTIC PIZZA AS A DIRECTORIAL VEHICLE FOR HERSELF. SHE DIDN'T GET TO DIRECT IT.

Screenwriter Amy Holden Jones’ film career began with Martin Scorcese. While attending Wellesely, she became interested in photography, which led her to film. Wellesley had a partnership with MIT where students could take film and photography classes there. At MIT, Jones became interested in documentaries and entered the AFI Student Film Festival. Scorcese was a judge.

Here’s what Jones told The Hollywood Reporter about her journey from student film festival winner to Spielberg to the disappointment of sexism in 1980’s Hollywood: 

"I won [the AVI Festival's documentary short category with A Weekend Home], and a year later I was trying to make a living in Boston in documentaries and it was still the day of film, and it was pretty much impossible because any documentary shot on film cost a great deal of money.

"I was gonna go back to graduate school, and I read an article about Marty starting a new picture, so I just wrote him. 'Do you remember this film? Would you advise me to move to New York?' And he called me five days later and said 'I remember the film, and come meet me in New York.' And he hired me on Taxi Driver as his assistant. I was living on various sofas of friends' apartments and going to Warner Brothers, and I got to see all the cuts of Taxi Driver, all the way from three and a half hours to the final cut.

"Marty advanced my career again because he said to me, "OK, you're too good to be an assistant.” Everyone started with Roger Corman, and Scorsese had too. And Roger called him and said, "I'm looking for a talented, inexpensive young film editor." Joe Dante and Allan Arkush did a feature together called Hollywood Boulevard for Corman, and they hired me to edit it.

"I ended up editing Corvette Summer, which was edited at Lucasfilm. So George Lucas and Spielberg saw all my cuts. And after that I was on the road to becoming a big editor. I picked the wrong [movie], I picked a Hal Ashby picture [Second-Hand Hearts], which was the only really unreleasable picture he ever did. I was on that for a year and a half and learned every trick in the book of editing from Hal, who was an editing genius. But I knew then I couldn't stand being an editor, because you could make it better, but it wasn't yours.

"I went back to Corman and said, 'I want to direct.' And he said, 'You have to show me you can do it.' So I took a script off of his shelf that he had never made called Don't Open the Door written by Rita Mae Brown. It had a prologue that had an action scene, a dialogue scene and a suspense scene. I shot it with a crew of four people on 35mm film.

By that time I was supposed to start cutting E.T. for Spielberg, but it was being pushed back because Poltergeistwas way over schedule. And Roger suddenly said, "Finish this movie.” I made the very crazy decision of walking away from E.T. and doing Slumber Party Massacre, which I have actually never regretted.

"I wanted to direct again, and no one offered me anything because women were not allowed to direct in those days. So I wrote [and directed] this art film Love Letters with Jamie Lee Curtis and Amy Madigan. Roger financed it again, and it also did very well, and once again nobody offered me anything.

"So I sat down and wrote Mystic Pizza. Ultimately it was optioned by Samuel Goldwyn Jr., who held onto it for many years claiming that an option for $5,000 gave him the rights to it for the rest of my life. So while that went on, I rewrote and directed Maid to Order with Ally Sheedy, and again I got offered nothing. And I'm saying not one single meeting. Meanwhile, people like my apprentice editors were directing movies, who were men.

"[Goldwyn Jr.] ultimately did make Mystic Pizza with a male director. It didn't actually do that well in release, but my version of the script had been incredibly well known and I began to get writing offers. The next one that I took was Indecent Proposal. It made me a big-name screenwriter in the era where you could make a great deal of money as that. And women were acceptable in that role, so you could get hired.

Jones was enchanted by Mystic, Conn., particularly the local pizza parlor: Mystic Pizza. Located at 55 West Main Street, they served (and still do) their mystery Mystic Pizza. Some was filmed in Mystic, but to avoid the crowds in busy tourist season, most of it was filmed in Stonington and Groton, Conn., with a few scenes filmed in Watch Hill, Rhode Island.

Donald Petrie Mystic Pizza

Director Donald Petrie had success in TV including nabbing an Emmy nomination for an episode of "L.A. Law," which led to a slew of film offers. He said most of them were slasher, horror, and alien films, which is actually what led to a special romantic comedy. “I got sent a script – an alien attacking innocent people in a small town. But they said, ‘We’ve got this other film we’re doing, you can take a look at it.’ It was Mystic Pizza. I read this script and said, 'that’s what I want to do!'

"The [producers] called and said 'What did you think?' and I said, “I loved it!” I didn’t tell them which script, and so I got the meeting," Petrie said, explaining that the producers assumed he was in on the alien movie. In the meeting, they were taken aback when he told them he wanted Mystic Pizza. "They said, 'It’s a woman’s picture.' And, I said, 'I have twin sisters, they’re just like these girls!' So I pitched myself to Sam Goldwyn and [directing Mystic Pizza] typecast me as [a romantic comedy director], something I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

Julia Roberts MYSTIC PIZZA

CASTING JULIA ROBERTS

Mystic Pizza was the big break for almost everyone involved. Certainly the young actresses Julia Roberts, Annabeth Gish, and Lili Taylor, but also writer Amy Holden Jones and director Donald Petrie.

Julia Roberts had played a supporting role in the girl band movie Satisfaction (“Family Ties” actress Justine Bateman was the star), but at the time, was most known for being Eric Roberts’ little sister. When she auditioned, she was a sales clerk at the Ann Taylor store at South Street Seaport in New York City. 

Julia Roberts struggled to make a good impression on the casting directors, even though they felt she was probably right for the role. In her book, “A Star is Found: Our Adventures Casting Some of Hollywood’s Biggest Movies, Janet Hirshenson wrote that she was familiar with Roberts and wanted to see her for Ron Howard’s movie Willow. Roberts could only come in on a Saturday, so the Hirshenson agreed to come in during her day off just to see her. Then, she never showed up. Roberts’ agent called to say her car broke down.

Hirshenson writes, “I couldn’t find Daisy, the apparently confident teen sexpot from the wrong side of the tracks whose heart is broken by a rich boy. So far, everyone I’d seen was either too sexual or too innocent. I needed someone who could flirt and tease and enjoy her sexual power – then wilt in shame at not knowing how to use the right fork.”

Roberts’ agent suggested the then 19-year-old actress. Hirshenson remembered Roberts spunk, and told the agent she’d see her “only if you can promise she won’t have car problems.”

According to Hirshenson, “When she arrived for her audition, she confessed the script had arrived late the night before and she hadn’t had time to read the whole thing. She didn’t seem to understand the character, she felt unprepared, and she was dressed in the very un-Daisy-like outfit of baggy jeans and an oversize shirt.

“What can I say? She was Julia Roberts even then, and somehow that shone through. Beneath the sloppy clothes and the uncertain attitude, I could sense an exuberance, a warmth, an unselfconscious sexuality that would make Daisy’s uncomfortable forays into romance touching and even a bit humorous. Yes, I thought, watching the awkward girl fidget in her chair. Here was someone who could win a belching contest with her girlfriends at the bar and then turn on the teenage charm the moment a cute boy walked in the door. Someone who could show us a working-class girl reaching desperately for the glamour and elegance she knew she deserved but didn’t quite know how to attain. Here was someone who could do what all movie stars do – make us identify with the character, rooting for her as though she was our own daughter, sister, girlfriend, as though she were somehow standing in for us."

Hirshenson told Roberts to go home and read the entire script and come back the next day, dressed in a miniskirt and tank so that she’d feel more like Daisy. “The next day Julia showed up in her sexy clothes – and there was Daisy, standing in our office. And when the now prepared actress read the audition scene, she simply knocked it out of the ballpark.”

Julia Roberts’s salary for Mystic Pizza was $50,000.

mystic pizza julia roberts annabeth gish lili taylor

MORE CASTING

to be the female Diner. About casting Julia Roberts, Samuel Goldwyn is quoted in "Movies Will Always be Magical” by By Leo Verswijver: “We wanted to make a movie about working class girls. A few years before I saw Diner (1982),  a brilliant film made by Barry Levinson, about young men and their expectations of life. I wanted to do the same thing about girls. So I started looking for a story and I found a script on which a lot of rewriting was done. Basically it was about three girls whose prospects in life were limited by their background. It was a small movie and there was an actress we wanted to get, but she couldn’t decide if the part was right and big enough for her. So one day the director, Donald Petrie, said to me, ‘I think I saw a girl for that part’ and he shot a little video on her. Unfortunately, when I saw it, she was awful. He said, ‘Sam, she’s going to be good.’ So I said, ‘Well, this is wrong, that is wrong, that has to be changed, etc.’ A little while later, he came back with another video of her. I said, ‘Is this the same girl?” All the habits she got, like biting on her lip and all that, it was all there. And most importantly, there was a kind of a fire and a lost quality at the same time, which people love, it was all there! After two days of rushes, it was very clear: she would become a star.” 

Lili Taylor and Julia Roberts’ both got their first break on TV in the series "Crime Story.”

As it was the ‘80s, most of the young acting talent got their first break in a teen sex comedy. Julia Roberts first film role was Firehouse. Vincent D’Onofrio’s first film role was in The First Turn-On – he played a character named “Lobotomy.”

The casting department had Laura San Giacomo on hold for the role of Jojo or Daisy. However, they felt San Giacomo was ultimately “too hot” for either role.

Mystic Pizza Lili Taylor Vincent D'Onofrio Jojo Bill

CASTING THE MEN

Adam Storke was a soap opera actor; Mystic Pizza was his first feature film.

Vincent D’Onofrio was the most famous actor on the set. He’d been in Full Metal Jacket and Adventures in Babysitting just a year prior. In fact, he was trying to get out of doing the movie until he did the first table read and was impressed with all of the strong acting talent he witnessed, in particular 16-year-old Gish. “There was Anabelle, who was young. I’d never seen anybody at that age act the way she did. Then, there was Ms. Roberts," he told Good Morning America. "And Lili, to me, was this premiere actress. She was phenomenal. The three of them together were so uniquely different and so uniquely powerful in their own ways. It was striking.” 

Well, that’s very nice but, perhaps there was another reason D’Onofrio took the role, at least at first? He told Entertainment Weekly: "I first saw Julia at an audition. I went to meet the director and there were tons of kids there Julia’s age, and I remember meeting Julia in the lobby and going, 'Wow, who’s that chick?'”

What’s important to know is that Julia Roberts originally read for the part of Jojo, who has many makeout scenes with D’Onofrio’s character.

Matt Damon Mystic Pizza

MATT DAMON

Yes, that is Matt Damon in his feature film debut. He booked the part of Charlie’s younger brother over his buddy, Ben Affleck. Here is his one line, uttered during the lobster dinner: "Hey, Mom, do you want my green stuff?"

Casting director Jane Jenkins writes about choosing Matt Damon for the part in her book "A Star is Found: Our Adventures Casting Some of Hollywood's Greatest Movies:" 

"Janet [Hirsheson, her business partner] and I always liked Matt, who at age fourteen was a really good kid actor doing theater in Boston with his pal Ben Affleck. Local casting director Carolyn Pickman...recommended Matt and Ben to us. The guys were then studying with well-known well-known acting teacher Paul Guilfoyle...

"We'd already cast a young man named Adam Storke as the rich kid, and as soon as we saw Matt's head shot, we thought he looked like Adam's brother. I honestly don't remember much more about Matt than that -- though I'd love to say I always knew he'd be a Superstar. After he won his Oscar, a reporter called me, and I had to say, 'Look, I'm not psychic. He was the cutest, rightest kid for the part -- that's all I knew at the time.'"

Entertainment Weekkly and Good Morning America teamed up to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Mystic Pizza with a reunion of the six core cast members. Later, Roberts was asked why Matt Damon wasn't at the reunion. She said, "Because he was kind of an extra!" 

The MPAA lists the family dinner with Damon (who is eating up brother Charlie challenging his family) as one of its "12 Truly Awkward Dinner Scenes."

Julia Roberts Adam Storke MYSTIC PIZZA hair

JULIA ROBERTS: THAT HAIR

Hair was everything in the ‘80s, and certainly, important for Mystic Pizza. Julia Roberts told Entertainment Weekly: “I had gone in for a reading and the casting director had said, 'You can’t be blond when you see the director.' I had never colored my hair before, so I went to Lamston’s [five-and-dime store] and bought black mousse. Do you know how much mousse it takes to cover your whole head? And my hair was massive.

“It was so brown and stiff and curly, and I had this audition with Adam Storke. I was so self-conscious of how stiff my hair was — and he’s touching it, and his fingers are turning black!” she said.

“So I did the reading and I was all excited, and I’m walking to the train station and it starts raining. All of that black starts running, just pouring… [Laughs] I must have looked like I had come out of a haunted house."

Adam Storke said "Hair was a big deal on this movie. I had to dye my hair white and then put a rinse in it every day. Julia’s hair was big one day and small the next. I think [the filmmakers] had a hard time focusing on exactly what they wanted."

MEMORABLE SCENES

Annabeth Gish was only 16 at the time of filming, two years younger than her character, Kat Arujo. The part called for her to kiss a 30-year-old married father. On the day that scene shot, Gish’s mom was present and gave Thomas Moses the hard stare. He says when he thinks about it, it still makes him uncomfortable.

About that scene, though. Gish told The Oklahoman. "The love scene with Tim (the older man, played by Moses), I'm kind of proud of the way that was handled. It was tactful. It has handled very real and very honestly."

Julia Roberts said her favorite scene was was when she dumped the fish onto Charlie’s car. Thomas Moses wasn't in the scene, but said Roberts asked him to come to set that night. "I remember Julia said, 'You should come [watch] tonight. I’m really good in this scene.' I said, ”Okay.” So I went and I was like, “Wow. She’s really good in that scene!” 

What Roberts remembers most about the scene isn' the craziness and emotional spin Daisy she takes. "“My legs were really sore because I was pushing that giant barrel filled with water all night long,” Roberts said.

The scene that gels the film together is when Daisy, angry with Kat, instantly pivots when she realizes her little sister’s pain. She holds and comforts her, like only a sister can. At the time, Roberts was best known as being the younger sibling of Eric Roberts. However, he was actually 11 years older than her, so, “he didn’t really play with us,” she said. The bond was with big sister Lisa, and she describes a relationship not too far off of Daisy and Kat: "My sister and I used to get into knockdown, drag-out [fights], just beating each other up,” Roberts told InTouch Magazine. “And then it would be, ‘OK, no hair pulling, no scratching’ … and we would just rule ourselves out of being able to do anything, and that would be the end of it.” 

MYSTIC PIZZA Vincent D'Onofrio, Lili Talor, William S. Moses, Annabeth Gish, Adam Storke julia Roberts

AFTER HOURS

The young cast stayed at the Mystic Hilton. Vincent D’Onofrio and Adam Storke drove from Los Angeles to Connecticut and became fast friends.

So, you’ve got THREE beautiful young women and THREE handsome young men, all far from home, staying in the same hotel. It’s like camp.

Annabeth Gish was a minor and her mother accompanied her and stayed with her at the hotel. So, she didn’t get to participate in any of the extracurricular activities...

...Like the time D’Onofrio and Storke stole a golf cart. Lili Taylor remembered it fondly, telling EW, “We were young. We were on location. We couldn’t drink, but we still got access to booze somehow!” 

Julia Roberts said she turned 21 during filming --  “And then did the suds flow!” she said.

D’Onofrio said, “I was flirting with everyone. They were all just so beautiful. To me, they were just these angels. I adored being around them.”

“Vince and I were always fighting with each other, bickering, and I remember thinking that Adam was such a mysterious puzzle,” said Roberts. “You could never get any information from him. It was like Jenga.”

According to the Fast Rewind community, Julia Roberts was dating Liam Neeson and he came to Mystic to see her. They’d met as co-stars on her previous film, Satisfaction (1988). She was reportedly also seeing one of the Mystic Pizza grips who was married. 

Julia Roberts Adam Storke Mystic Pizza perm hair

DELETED SCENES

Let's talk about Daisy’s expensive cocktail dress. She buys the pricey black velvet dress with the large white bow and tells Kat she’ll return it after she wears it…and then, she wears it…and that’s it. We don’t hear about the dress again. According to Fast Rewind, it was scripted and filmed that Charlie spill a drink on her dress, which makes Daisy upset.  This makes sense, it would make the status gap larger between the two. The script also originally had that when Charlie shows up at the pizza place to try and make amends with Daisy, he surprises her with a new, identical dress. 

Mystic Pizza William Moses Annabeth Gish

ANNABETH GISH INTERVIEW WITH ROGER EBERT

A teenage Annabeth Gish plays a character older than she in Mystic Pizza. She has a maturity outlook that belies her young age, as indicated in her interview with Roger Ebert at the time. Here are some highlights:

In the era of the bawdy teen sex comedy, Mystic Pizza stands out for not putting exposed breasts on the big screen. “The body is a beautiful thing, but because it is beautiful it should not be cheapened with public display,” 17-year-old Gish told Ebert.”I cringed when I saw Fatal Attraction. I pitied Glenn Close for what they put her through at the end. It was so unnecessary."

Gish and D’Onofrio became good friends during filming and he warned her about dating in Hollywood. “[D’Onofio] said in a lot of marriages involving actors, the big argument is over who's the first one to get the bathroom mirror in the morning. So I ask myself, will I ever fall in love with an actor? Or anybody?” she said. “It's hard for me in high school, because I can't always share all of the things that have become part of my world. The boys I know, their world is school and football games and stuff like that for now. And I'm too young to get involved with older guys. I am, however, a very romantic person, and I want to fall in love with someone." 

Lili Taylor Julia Roberts Annabeth Gish Mystic Pizza

THE RELEASE

The actresses went on their first big publicity tour, but Annabeth Gish said she was less involved since she was going to high school in Iowa. "I was very far removed from it all because I had gone back to Cedar Falls, where nobody knew what the hell I did. I remember, for the publicity tour, they had to fly me on a private plane to New York so that Julia, Lili, and I could do the "Today" show, and then I had to fly right back because it was my prom that same night. [In fact, it was actually Homecoming and she was a member of the Homecoming Court - Editor.]

During that Today Show interview with Bryant Gumbel, Julia Roberts said, “I think if people were to describe Daisy in a word, they’d say ‘she’s hot.’ And if people were to describe me in a word, they’d say ‘she’s nice.’

“She’s really full of fire and full of spice, and doesn’t think about what she’s going to say or what she’s going to do before she does it,” Roberts said. “She throws caution to the wind, and so she gave me this feeling of a free for all and I could say what I wanted to.

Some of the movie posters sold the film pretty hard. They read, “Discover a movie which hits home about love, friendship, dreams and life. A movie that you'll be talking about long afterwards. Experience something special, something romantic, something honest."

REVIEWS

In any dish, “the secret sauce” usually isn’t just one ingredient, but several that when combined, are amazing. Mystic Pizza’s secret sauce: three incredibly talented actresses that the world hadn’t yet discovered, one young, female screenwriter who understood her generation and gender, with script doctoring by Alfred Uhry – who won the Pulitzer Price later that year for his play that embraced heart and empathy: Driving Miss Daisy. The late, great Roger Ebert explains the film’s charm the best in his 1988 review: 

I have a feeling that “Mystic Pizza” may someday become known for the movie stars it showcased back before they became stars. All of the young actors in this movie have genuine gifts. Roberts is a major beauty with a fierce energy. Gish projects intelligence and stubbornness like a young Katharine Hepburn. And Taylor, who is given what’s intended as a more comic role, finds human comedy in her ongoing problems with the earnest and chaste Bill.

It’s fun to watch them work. Of the men, D’Onofrio, as Bill, has the best part to work with as he stubbornly explains how he doesn’t believe in sex without a commitment. Moses and Storke have less to work with; their roles are constructed out of obligatory emotions, in a movie that is really about women.

There are nice performances around the edges of this movie, too, by Ferrell (from “Heartland”) as the pizza cook with the secret, and by Louis Turenne as the local television gourmet, who turns up one fateful day to review the famous pizza.

“Mystic Pizza” does create the feeling of a small resort town and the people who live there and, amazingly, given the familiar nature of a lot of the material, it nearly always keeps us interested. That’s because the characters are allowed to be smart, to react in unexpected ways, and to be more concerned with doing the right thing than with doing the expedient or even the lustful thing.

The movie isn’t really about three girls in love; it’s about three girls discovering what their standards for love are going to be.

On the other hand, The Washington Post review by Hal Hinson is almost embarrassing in his “I’m a man” condescending review that reveals as much as he thinks he gets it, he doesn’t. It begins: "Mystic Pizza," the new film about the friendship among three young women working in a Mystic, Conn., pizza parlor, has an abundance of heart, but it's to the detriment of other vital organs. The subject here is female bonding…” and ends: "Mystic Pizza" is an old-fashioned woman's picture updated (just slightly) for '80s women. The revelation here is that women think and talk bluntly and unsentimentally about men -- something that will surely come as news to everyone except those who have actually ever had conversations about such things with the opposite sex.

mystic pizza julia roberts lili taylor

“I did not think this movie would stick around,” Lili Taylor told Entertainment Weekly. “I don’t know why. But there’s something pure about it. We were all sort of innocent. Open. Willing. Maybe that spirit came through.”

Roberts went on to explain, “We were just…happy. Happy to have jobs, happy to be working hard, and enjoying each other’s company.” 

Julia Roberts Annabeth gish mystic pizza

FUN FACTS

The script’s actual title is “Slices of Live and Love – Mystic Pizza.”

The real Mystic Pizza restaurant that the movie was inspired by faced a scandal of its own. Employees were being paid less than minimum wage and were not being compensated for working overtime.

Petrie said one would think the cast and crew were eating a lot of pizza while on location. “Actually, it was lobster. The mom works at a lobster factory putting the [bands] on the claws. We had to buy all these lobsters! So, we immediately took them to the caterers! So, we were eating lobster a lot.”

Petrie says he doesn’t do a lot of rehearsal with comedies because after one does the line several times, it loses its freshness.

Annabeth Gish has a grandmother named Lillian Gish…but, she’s not that Lillian Gish. However, she told Roger Ebert in 1988 that she did write to the acting legend Lillian Gish, who wrote her back – advising her to stay out of the business! “`Stay in a place where you are loved and supported,' she wrote me. `There's too much talent and not enough work in the movies!' She said her life had been so used, since she began working at such a young age, that she knew nothing else but acting. And she wished that she did. It was kind of shattering to me that here was this wonderful actress who I respected so much, telling me such terrible things about the business. And basically what I found out was that everything she said was true." 

Annabeth's grandma Lillian Gish lives in Tahlequah, Okla.

Gish decided not to try and succeed in the acting business from the Midwest. In that 1988 Ebert interview, Gish said that she and her family tried to create a balance between the two worlds. "For example, I decided not to move out to Los Angeles and plunge into the business and totally give up my education. I'm going to Northwestern next fall. I am going to prove that you can be in Iowa and not be in L.A. and not be in New York and still be a movie actress."

Julia Roberts Mystic Pizza Annabeth Gish

LEGACY

The real Mystic Pizza was already popular in Mystic, Conn., when Amy Holden Jones was inspired to write the script revolving around it. However, since the film, the pizzeria has become a tourist destination with people reporting lines around the corner to get “a slice of heaven,” especially for the mysterious ingredients in their pizza pies. Locations Hub created a driving tour to see all of the spots – and if you can’t go, they have the details of where things were filmed with photos of what it looked like in 1988 and what it looks like today. 

You no longer have to go to Connecticut to try the Mystic Pizza. They now have a frozen pizza available in grocery stores – CLICK HERE for a list of locations. 

No doubt the biggest thing to come out of Mystic Pizza was Julia Roberts, the film thrust her into the spotlight. That was not a surprise to her cast members. Vincent D’Onofrio said, “You just knew when you met Julia that she was going to be a big star…There was no doubt in our minds. She was like a bomb waiting to go off when you met her…a big bomb!'

Roberts reflected on her "explosion" into the limelight to People Magazine in 1999. "The first time I felt I was famous was when I went to the movies with my mom. I had gone to the loo, and someone in the bathroom said in a very loud voice, 'Girl in stall No. 1, were you in Mystic Pizza?' I paused and I said, 'Yeah, that was me.'" 

william moses mystic pizza tim yale

Mystic Pizza: The Musical is currently being developed for the stage with Melissa Ethridge composing the music and lyrics. Gordon Greenberg, who adapted Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn for the stage, and comedic writer and actress Sas Goldberg will write the book. In a statement, Greenberg said, "MGM’s Mystic Pizza is a seminal film for an entire generation of young people looking to distinguish themselves in a rapidly changing world. Adapting Amy Holden Jones’ original screenplay for the stage with rock icon Melissa Etheridge, a beacon of strength and raw musical energy, and the brilliantly hilarious Sas Goldberg, is a dream collaboration on a story that is as relevant today as it was when we all first experienced it. Featuring three strong young women at its core, and set in a community of immigrants dealing with traditionally limited expectations amid shifting class dynamics, it provides us with sparkly characters and a highly compelling world.”

Thomas Moses’ most memorable roles are playing the seemingly good guy who is really a creep! Other than playing Mystic Pizza’s married man who sleeps with the babysitter who is barely out of high school, he is best known for his role on “Melrose Place,” playing the bad boy boyfriend of Courtney Thorne-Smith.

Much of the cast has reteamed. Julia Roberts and Matt Damon have made three more movies together:  Ocean’s 11, Oceans 12, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Roberts and Conchata Ferrell co-starred in Erin Brockovich. Damon and John Cunningham played son and father again in School Ties. Lili Taylor and Vincent D’Onofrio truly proved to be a duo, joining forces again for Household Saints and Brooklyn’s Finest.

Amy Holden Jones went on to write the Beethoven movies, a family film franchise that revolved around a frustrated man (Charles Grodin) and his out of control St. Bernard. She also wrote 1993's conundrum film Indecent Proposal. Currently, she is the creator and writer on the Fox drama series, “The Resident.”

Mystic Pizza was Donald Petrie’s first feature film. He went on to direct some of the most beloved rom-coms of the early aughts: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Miss Congeniality.

A sequel, Return to Mystic Pizza, was in development in the ‘90s. Little Italy, starring Julia Roberts’ niece Emma Roberts and helmed by Mystic Pizza director Donald Petrie got fans excited when it was promoted with Emma Roberts wearing a "Slice of Heaven" tee-shirt, but it turns out those three elements are the only connection to the 1988 property.  As for now, it looks like Mystic Pizza will exist as a standalone.

Soundtrack

Mystic Pizza has two different soundtracks: the music used in the film but was never released as a compilation and entirely different music that is not in the film that was released in Germany by Polydor. The music from the film (at least the North American release) is below:

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Director: Donald Petrie
Screenwriter: Amy Holden Jones
Release date: October 21, 1988
Rating: R
Opening weekend rank: #7. The #1 movie was new release Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. #2 was The Accused in its second week of release. Other openings were Without a Clue at #6 (Michael Caine & Ben Kingsley in a film where Sherlock Holmes is a drunk and Dr. Watson is the real genius) and the Vietnam war film BAT-21 at #10.
Opening weekend: $1.16 million
Lifetime Gross: $12.8 million
Budget: $6 million
Production company: The Samuel Goldwyn Co.
Distributor: The Samuel Goldwyn Co.