Background: IFC Films is a company that has been gaining quite a reputation for providing quirky little films of all sorts in recent months. With so many people finding the watered down, suit-produced, blockbuster flicks really lame and irritating, outlets like IFC provide many newcomers a means by which to showcase their scripts and directing ability, as well as give actors a chance to expand their horizons with fewer nods to all the marketing considerations a bigger budget release would have. The latest release from the company I got in to review was Pizza, a romantic comedy with some very untraditional leads in roles that were probably more realistic than anything you'll see out of Hollywood.
The opening menu of the DVD seemed to convey the level of quality of the movie better than I could express with words.
Movie: Pizza started out showing character Cara Ethyl (Kylie Sparks) enjoying her 18th birthday with her mother (Julie Hagerty), wishing for a better life. She's really fat, wears glasses, and attempts to fool her mother into thinking a friend is there with them by projecting her voice (mom had a baking accident that left her temporarily blinded with silly patches over her eyes) so that Mom won't worry so much. Aside from the huge chocolate cake, the highlight of her evening is getting four large pizzas that she will presumably gobble down in a fit of self pity. This introduces the character of Matt (Ethan Embry); a 30 year old pizza delivery guy that combines the self motivation of your typical loser slacker type with a man too afraid to do anything with his life. Cara immediately falls for him as the only person not related to her that has shown her kindness on her birthday and worms her way into helping him deliver pizzas for the rest of his night.
While not your traditional hotty, Cara Ethyl won't be threatening to anyone in the audience like most Hollywood gals would be.
The movie then proceeds to show the two have a night full of misadventures as they learn about one another. Matt reads the pretentious ramblings of Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, and other wannabe social commentators with his delivery truck full of fliers for all sorts of protests that he never really attends (using them to pick up socially conscious women and them forget about them after he gets his jollies). This interests Cara because she is a pseudo-intellectual type who spends most of her time with her studies since everyone else rejects her (she's fat, she has a chip on her shoulder, and she tries to be things she is not-actress, worldly, and fluent in old world speaking with a touch of Italian).
Lead male Ethan Embry gave off a poor man's Matthew McConaughey vibe.
Matt uses all sorts of tricks to get tips (taking off his shirt, flexing his muscles, and using his charm to enhance his chances of more dough); most of which seem to bother Cara as she discovers how the real world, the world outside of her books, works. As a slice of life type of movie, Pizza almost works to entertain us since the expectations are set so low. The almost inevitable kiss the leads share was inconsequential to the revelations they find out about each other, and themselves of course, as the night wears on. The two seem to challenge one another in ways that no one has sought to do before, largely because they barely get along. They know there's nothing between them (and don't want it to happen) so they are free to be themselves when alone together, reverting to form when outsiders enter the picture (from her Drama teacher, his roommates, her family and schoolmates).
This is where the film both fails and succeeds; it appears to have a good heart for what it wants to say as the main message but the script seemed riddled with holes and wild quirks that tend to make the duo very irritating and unsympathetic. Matt lets her hang with him for the night since he feels sorry for her but she goes out of her way to piss him off, as though her book knowledge somehow makes up for her lack of social graces (and lack of reality checks), and he's almost drawn to her naiveté as full of potential that he might have had himself but has since squandered (his manager is one of the high school kids in Cara's class; a doofus that is just as likely to end up like Matt as in jail). The script never really clues the viewer in as to whether or not Matt is simply afraid of rejection, success, or something else with too many of his lines coming across as forced. Cara is a needy nerd who builds up walls of her own to augment the ones the rest of the world has built around her; the script unable to reconcile some of her glory moments with the main thrust of her character.
So, while I give a nod to director Mark Christopher (and the rest of the cast and crew) for providing a decent alternative to the latest "Teen Comedy" from Hollywood, Pizza comes across more as a half baked set of random ideas that might have worked if given more time and effort on bringing the ideas together. In that sense, the movie might make a worthy candidate for being a Rent It but the replay value wasn't very high and even the first viewing struck me as having a spotty record for providing comedy or drama on a consistent basis. If you set your bar low enough, you may appreciate the movie more than I did but I think most of you will find the lack of likeable characters the biggest hurdle to finding the movie one you'd want to bring a date to, never mind watch more than once.
Picture: Pizza was presented in a "matted widescreen format preserving the aspect ratio of its original theatrical exhibition" as the cover stated. There was a lot of grain and some video noise with numerous little flaws observed during the black parts of the movie (it was largely shot at night, and the various issues of a low budget movie were primarily evident in the scenes shot outside at night). The fleshtones were largely accurate but it wasn't a great looking movie by any standard.
Sound: The audio was presented in a 2.0 Dolby Digital English with optional subtitles in Spanish or English. There was very little separation or use of dynamic range in the movie but seeing as how it was largely dialogue driven, this wasn't a big problem in telling the story. The music tracks were actually far more appealing than I thought they'd be (a decent mix of some hits and classics, including Lulu's To Sir With Love) but again, the budget kept them from sounding their best.
Extras: There were a few decent extras here with some trailers starting off the movie. The next extra was the a making of featurette called A Slice of Pizza where the director showed clips of the movie and discussed them with the help of some of the others involved in making the movie. Lastly, there was a full length audio commentary by director Mark Christopher with occasional remarks made by co-producer Howard Gertler (most of his additions were near the beginning of the commentary). It was a relatively modest effort too with Mark resorting largely to providing a running narration of the movie with a few words tossed in from time to time about obstacles they ran into.
Final Thoughts: Pizza was a decent little indie movie about self discovery and the wonderful world of dating as seen through the eyes of a burnout slacker and a gal half his age as each seem to miss the obvious far too often. I watched the movie with a friend and she seemed to think Cara was perfectly similar to many gals growing up who find solace in eating when the world seems to shut them out. It wasn't overly funny and the dramatic points driven home by the movie seemed forced far too often but check it out and see if perhaps you identify with either of the characters more than I could.