Like Hawaiian pie, indie comedy “Pizza” is not for all palates, but it’s laced with enough tasty ingredients to sustain a following. Scribe/helmer Mark Christopher has crafted a bittersweet, persuasively acted comedy whose tone recalls ’80s teen films. Although it has some predictably formulaic elements, pic overall feels too quirkily offbeat (and its cast too far below the radar) to snag a high-profile distribution deal like Christopher’s Miramax-diffused “54.” Having already been released overseas, “Pizza” will presumably find a delivery service to place it on arthouse menus and — with decent promotion — on homevideo shelves, where it should fare even better.
Plus-sized high schooler Cara-Ethyl (Kylie Sparks), an aspiring actress, is depressed and alone on her 18th birthday. Desperate to convince her mother (Julie Hagerty) — temporarily blinded in a baking accident — that she’s not a pariah, Cara-Ethyl invents and impersonates the guests at her own party.
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When handsome and surprisingly articulate pizza man Matt (Ethan Embry) arrives, Cara-Ethyl instantly falls for his low-key charm and thirtysomething intelligence. Though Cara-Ethyl is intermittently grating — she’s a weird blend of vulnerable and brassy, like her namesakes Irene Cara and Ethel Merman — Matt graciously invites her along on his delivery route.
Through a gamut of pizza deliveries and some misguided adventures, the unlikely duo forges a friendship. The sheltered Cara-Ethyl is exposed to a culture she had only known through books and movies, a world that involves sexually aggressive roommates, drug-snorting teenagers, and imperious pizza bosses. And Matt, for his part, learns a thing or two about himself.
Ironically, some of “Pizza’s” best elements are also its weakest. While its themes are poignant and universal — no one wants to feel like a misfit; everyone needs a friend — they’re piled on so heavily that they go down like a stale slice. What makes the movie fresh are the performances from newcomer Sparks and Embry (TV’s “Dragnet”), each of whom breathes new life into what might have been the stereotypical parts of fat girl and hunk.
Christopher has an ear for dialogue, and when he’s more preoccupied with the rhythm of his characters’ banter than the ponderous significance of his movie’s message, “Pizza” is a relatively appetizing plate.