November 6, 2006
Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½
Movies about "outsiders" are perennially popular in both independent and mainstream genres, although the latter tends to see these characters as either troubled (Rebel Without a Cause), "special" (Rain Man) or minority (The Outsider, with Tony Curtis in the role that Adam Beach now essays in Flags of Our Fathers). The Hollywood goal is almost always to have the character win or "fit in," while American independent movies (Junebug and Bubble are good examples), as well as many foreign films, tend to treat their entire cast of characters as outsiders - which is why many of us treasure these movies and their makers. If you're a fan of the "outsider" genre, you might want to add Pizza to your queue because this little-seen surprise offers a double dose of "otherness": a very overweight high school girl (who could beat Welcome to the Dollhouse's "Weinerdog" at her own game) and a hunky, over-age pizza boy whose neon-ized delivery truck and outsized libido (he's got a member to match) are community legend.
The unlikely relationship that grows between these two over a single night is captured with surprising humor, sweetness and believability by writer/director Mark Christopher, whose second film this is. That his full-length debut was 1998's dreadful 54 (a mistaken look at NYC's Studio 54) makes Pizza ever more surprising and delicious: it's always a treat to greet a good, tight follow-up from a moviemaker whose earlier work flailed and failed. The budget here looks like maybe 1/1000th of what was spent on 54, so perhaps the restraint forced the filmmaker to concentrate on writing and direction - both of which he handles very well. The two leads, Kylie Sparks (TVís "Complete Savages") and Ethan Embry (Canít Hardly Wait, Sweet Home Alabama), are exceptional: Moment to moment, thereís not a false note between them. Thereís not a bad performance from the entire ensemble, either - which includes Julie Hagerty (sweetly dithering as usual), who delivers a terrifically pungent and memorable line about high school; the gorgeous Alexis Dziena; and an equal parts sexy and goofy Joey Kern.
The few reviews Pizza received were generally dismissive, and I admit to not expecting much. Yet the movie pulled me in and held me fast for its short running time. Thankfully, it does not overplay its modest hand. Christopher and his cast understand what they are doing and allow this unusual relationship to build gradually, never going beyond reality or pushing for more happiness and accomplishment than this odd friendship might achieve (or, perhaps, deserve). There's an honesty here that I find rather rare, along with the audacity to take a situation that, by all rights, oughtn't to happen - then make it happen and make it work.
Posted by cphillips at November 6, 2006 11:52 AM