YA Romance Films You Might Not Have Seen But Should — “Mystic Pizza”

Posted on June 27, 2012

So many of these come from the 1980s. What can I say? That’s when I was YA myself. Also I keep having to remember that this means those movies came out before a lot of my readers were born, and then I laugh, and then I feel ancient and start yelling for people to get off my lawn.

“Mystic Pizza”

THE PLOT: Kat, Daisy and Jojo are as close as three girls can be; Kat and Daisy are sisters, Jojo is their mutual best friend, and they all work together at Mystic Pizza, serving up the best slices in town to tourists and locals alike. But they’re all drawn in different directions over the course of one summer – partly because of their goals in life, and partly because of love.

THE LOVE: Kat’s the overachiever, an aspiring astronomer who’s won a scholarship to Yale but is still working extra jobs to save money and be self-supporting while she’s in college. One of the extra jobs she takes is as a babysitter for a little girl whose mother is in London for the summer – apparently partly because her marriage is breaking down. This means Kat starts spending a lot of time with the father, Tim … who’s very handsome, in his early 30s, devoted to his daughter, and obviously extremely lonely. Kat’s not someone who normally breaks the rules, and she’s conscientious of people’s feelings almost to a fault. So she’s not an obvious candidate for “the other woman.” But Tim might be single again soon. He graduated from Yale himself. And Kat’s drawn to more than Tim himself – she’s also dazzled by the aura of accomplishment and culture around him. That’s the life she wants; is this also the man she wants?

Daisy is … not the overachiever. College isn’t on the horizon for her, as her disappointed mother never stops pointing out. While Kat’s hitting the books, Daisy’s putting on her best dress and sneaking out to party in town. But she longs to escape from home someday, and dreams that love might be the answer. Enter Charles Windsor, a gorgeous blue-blood rich kid she meets when he’s slumming in one of the local bars one night. Daisy beats him at pool and doesn’t put up with any of his crap – and it turns out that he loves having someone that authentic in his life. But Daisy always wonders whether he’s just having some summer fun with the “poor girl” before heading back to his upper-crust life –

Then there’s Jojo. She loves this town … she thinks. She’s very much in love (and lust) with Bill, her fiancé … unless she’s settling. And she’s going to marry him this summer … unless she freaks out. Jojo doesn’t want to pull away from home, but she wants to be her own person, too. Is there any way to stay in her hometown, with Bill, and still establish her own independence? And can Bill come to understand why this is so important to her, or will she wind up pushing him away?

THE BEST PARTS: So many things are awesome about this movie that it’s hard to count them all. First off, the casting director for this movie should get a prize. Daisy was one of Julia Roberts’ first big roles; performers like Lili Taylor (Jojo), Conchata Ferrell (Leona, the proprietor of Mystic Pizza) and Vincent D’Onofrio (Bill) broke out here, and you can even spy wee tiny Matt Damon as rich-kid Charles’s little brother, being bratty at the dinner table. The chemistry between the performers makes the script that much better.

And the script is much more nuanced than it first appears – it seems like a feel-good comedy, but the interpersonal dynamics feel very three-dimensional and real. All those romantic dilemmas I described – you’ve probably seen them before, but you probably haven’t seen them quite like this. Just when you think a scene will be clichéd, it zigs where you thought it would zag, and something very different is revealed about the characters. Probably the single best part is the relationship between sisters Kat and Daisy. Although Daisy is openly jealous of Kat’s ambition and intelligence, she also loves Kat fiercely; some of her advice is so acid-tongued that Kat thinks it’s purely meanness, but in hindsight we realize Daisy’s always meant well. And while Kat is usually the one who does the emotional heavy-lifting – providing cover stories for Daisy’s partying, being the first to apologize, etc. – when she discovers her own selfish side, she has to climb down off her high horse.

Also, this really feels like a small town, like people who have known one another forever. The girls know which bar Bill is probably hanging out in on any given night; everyone is friendly with everyone else’s parents and siblings; Leona is practically a second mom to all of them.

THE WORST PART: Jojo’s story is the least developed of the three. It’s not bad, by any means, but it lacks some of the dimension given to the adventures of Daisy and Kat. Which means that her ending – which is probably meant to feel the most final of the three – feels the least resolved. Then again, this movie feels like a peek into real life, and when does real life ever resolve? Also, the rich guy’s last name is Windsor. Come ON. That is such a fake rich person name. I mean, it’s even fake for the British royal family! (They were Saxe-Coburg and Gotha until WWI, when due to anti-German sentiment they decided to change it, looked around, saw Windsor Castle and thought, right, that’ll do.)

HOW YOU WILL KNOW IT’S THE 1980S: Julia Roberts does not have top billing; she does have her original butt, which is of normal human proportions instead of movie-star cut-to-fit. Matt Damon does not appear to have hit puberty. There are several points in the story where a cellphone would fix things very quickly, but too bad; they won’t be commonly available for a while yet.

How do the romances turn out? Obviously I don’t intend to spoil the whole movie, but I will say this: We get one happy ending, one disastrous ending, and one where we’ll have to wait and see. The whole point, though, is that Daisy, Kat and Jojo see each other through it – even when it means lying for each other, or forcing each other to see the truth, or doing emergency babysitting, or, as it sometimes turns out, dumping hundreds of dead fish into a convertible. It’s a low-key, laid-back, totally enjoyable movie that reveals a little more each time you see it. On Netflix!