Mystic Pizza, 1988
There are a lot of movies on my Connecticut Movies list, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that more Connecticut than 1988’s coming of age flick, Mystic Pizza. It was almost entirely filmed in Stonington and Groton and anyone with a passing familiarity with the area will recognize many filming locations around the area. Not only that, but the story itself is locally accurate; Blue collar, hard-working Portuguese people mixed with wealthy Yalies gawking tourists.
Of course Mystic Pizza itself features prominently… but what’s sort of funny to me is that the original restaurant, which began operations in 1973, was a hole-in-the-wall. The restaurant scenes weren’t filmed there, but rather in a mock-up over on Water Street in Stonington Borough.
After the movie’s relative success, the owners remodeled the restaurant to look more like it did in the movie. Life imitating art. Or something. (As you’d expect, I’ve written a page about a visit to Mystic Pizza, which isn’t the greatest restaurant in the world, but it has become a bit of an icon.)
Everyone has seen this movie, right? Heck, Buzzfeed even has one of their dopey gif-icles about it. Three young women in three very different relationships with three very different men. All three work at Mystic Pizza, which is famous for its secret sauce. Jojo (Lili Taylor) is content working in the restaurant and is engaged. Kat (Annabeth Gish) is the smart one – off to Yale soon on partial scholarship, employed at Mystic Seaport’s planetarium, about to abet adultery with a 30-year-old guy. And Daisy (Julia Roberts), the stunning sister of Kat, too big and good for this life.
Everything in the movie has been done before and since, but it’s done really well here. The Jojo storyline is kind of dumb: she wants to sleep with her fiance before marriage, she leaves him at the altar, he’s a very religious fisherman who can’t handle her, they make up and ultimately get married, happily, and look forward to a blue-collar life in southeast Connecticut.
Kat, trying to earn extra money, becomes a nanny to an architect restoring a massive old (typical) Stonington Borough house. He’s a Yale grad, his wife is away for almost the entire movie, and she has a good, innocent heart. She ends up falling for him and sleeping with him and that was a bad decision to say the least.
I remember in high school thinking it was weird that this 18(?)-year-old slept with this older, married father while caring for his daughter… and I still kind of do. But also as an old guy now writing this website, I noticed she was reading Early Connecticut houses : an historical and architectural study, by Norman M. Isham and Albert F. Brown in one scene to impress the guy. I appreciated the authenticity of the choice.
There’s a scene with the women drinking Miller High Life’s on the waterfront on a chilly fall day and I thought to myself how perfect that is. (I’m writing this during the pandemic of 2020, and yearn for such simple experiences.)
There’s another scene that was shot on North Main Street – the road most of us take off of I-95 to get into Mystic. This was a fun movie to watch!
A few scenes were shot just over the border in Watch Hill, RI but almost everything was in Groton and Stonington (aka, Mystic.) They even watched the bascule bridge raise in one scene! Woo-hoo!
Daisy – can I just say again how radiant and beautiful Julia Roberts was (and still is) in this movie? She woos a rich preppie and they begin dating. She’s the fiery Portuguese pistol and he’s the snobby Yalie (of course) with nearby mansions at his disposal. He drives a Porsche, because that’s what white Connecticut Yale people drive.
They also visit their “grandmother in Greenwich” on the weekends, which leads to this scene where Daisy dumps a bunch of fish barrels in the Porsche. (Don’t worry, he appeared a few days later in his backup BMW.)
The best scene is the fancy dinner at the rich guy’s family’s house. He invites Daisy who is out of place, but playing along. She’s friends with the (Portuguese) server which is a neat way to show the ethnic class divide. The rich people eat lobster in a shell with a fork somehow. A young Matt Damon is at the table! His first movie scene! (Kind of cool Damon and Roberts were in this movie together, knowing what the next 30 years will bring them.) Damon is the rich little brother named Steamer. For real. Steamer.
Anyway, Steamer offers his mother the lobster’s “green stuff” and is yelled at for not liking “the best part.” Listen, I worked in seafood for years and the tomalley is not “the best part.” In fact, it’s the worst part. Stop lying to yourselves.
The scene at the rich house is a good one, because Daisy realizes her boyfriend invited her as a prop for him to grandstand about his family’s racism and classism. She’s on to his game, which was a surprising twist in this all-too-typical fish out of water scene.
Back at the restaurant, the chef/owner talks smack about clam pizza. (Today, you can order clams on pizza at the real restaurant.) She talks smack about the fou-fou food reviewer too… until he shows up in the shop one day.
He order the House Special (which is also served in the real restaurant: Pepperoni, meatball, sausage, green peppers, onions, and mushrooms if you need to know) and offers no indication on whether he liked it or not. If you don’t know, I’ll leave you hanging for a minute…
Check this out: Roger Ebert’s original 1988 review in which he wrote:
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.
Not sure what happened to Gish, but he nailed Julia Roberts. Hm. That doesn’t sound right.
Anyway, restaurant reviewer snob loved the pizza and raves about sauce that confounds him because he quite sort out what herb or ingredient makes it so great. The engaged couple gets married as I’ve said, Kat learns not to sleep with older married guys and is off to Yale soon, and Daisy makes up with the rich guy who promises to slum it the right way with her.
Not only is Mystic Pizza one of the most “Connecticut” movies ever made, it’s probably one of the most enjoyable on the whole list.
CTMQ Rating: 4 out of 5 thumbs up
Connecticutness: 169 out of 169 Nutmegs
Filmed in Connecticut? Almost all of it
Rich Caucasian with a Big House? Yes