Julia Roberts remains one of the most iconic and talented actresses in Hollywood today. A more than three-decade run with her name in lights has her continuing to sit on the short-list of the most sought-after stars in the movie world even today. Her resume is lengthy with award-winning roles, many of which are cultural reference points. But even the biggest fans of the actress may not have seen a movie that started to put Julia Roberts on the map. There’s a chance to catch it now with Mystic Pizza hitting Netflix this month.
Mystic Pizza came out in 1988 and was directed by Donald Petrie and marked Julia Roberts’s first real feature films. While it has a somewhat fanciful name, conjuring ideas of sorcery or illusions of restaurant dreamworlds, in actuality Mystic is just the name of a small seaside town in Connecticut.
In a trope of many an 80s movie, Julia Roberts plays Daisy Aruajo, an “other side of the tracks” girl who works with her sister at the titular pizza parlor in town. Of the two sisters, Daisy is the more fun-loving of the two, a role Roberts easily inhabits with the infectious smile taking over the screen.
This role also gave Julia Roberts a chance to show off another trait she’d use later on, especially in Pretty Woman, in which she’s woefully uncomfortable in new situations that are seemingly above her station in life. While she’s just a “regular” waitress in the town’s pizzeria, she does fall for a dude in a wealthier family on the richer side of town. Here’s a scene in which she’s a fish out of water at a dinner with his family:
It’s easy to see here that Julia Roberts is ready for bigger things with her quiet demeanor, easy smile and penetrating good looks on display, playing out the scene at its center while also not saying all that much. It’s fantastic and just one of the early signs that she was ready for a star turn.
While she isn’t strictly the feature star in this film, Julia Roberts does help to steal the screen in her role. It’s a small-town film, playing on the ideas of nostalgia around family and its insularity while also understanding that these young people want nothing more than to break out and see the broader world. Roberts, for all her beauty, fits right into the mix. She is more than believable as someone who understands her station in life while also wanting to leave the place as soon as humanly possible.
Overall, the coming of age movie performed well with critics earning mostly positive reviews and finishing with a 75% on the Tomatometer. The box office take wasn’t anything to write home about ($14 million on a $6 million budget, a lot of it on promotion) but much of the cast is still around today with Vincent D’Onofrio, Lili Taylor, and Annabeth Gish also starring alongside Julia Roberts. Plus, as seen in the clip above, this movie marked Matt Damon’s first official film credit.
Before Mystic Pizza Julia Roberts had only a few roles to her credit. But that all changed after the movie premiered. The actress had put her stamp on it as the moderately rebellious, though sweet and relatable Daisy.
In the next three years, after the exposure from this film Julia Roberts would go on to do Pretty Woman and Steel Magnolias in which she played characters similarly in line with this first flick. Those two films each earned her Academy Award nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively.
It was only after those that her career began to expand into darker roles in Sleeping With the Enemy and Flatliners which showed off her range. And finally, in 2001, Julia Roberts took home an Oscar for Best Actress in her titular Erin Brockovich role. Her acceptance speech for that award remains one of the best ones ever.
Julia Roberts has had as accomplished a career in Hollywood as you’ll ever find, playing a wide variety of characters while also maintaining a certain on-screen accessibility that’s very difficult to pull off. Now’s the time to go back and really see where it all started. Take some time to check out Mystic Pizza on Netflix. You’ll most definitely see a star in the making and understand what catapulted her career to super-stardom.