Mark Christopher became the filmmaker du jour for a brief time
when his first full-length feature,
54, reached the screens in 1998.
Although there were reports that his version of the movie was altered
slightly by the heads of the releasing studio, Christopher showed promise
and expectations ran high for his next opus. Well, it’s taken nearly seven
years for his sophomore effort to reach theaters (after some festival
screenings last year), but
PIZZA, distributed by IFC Films, is opening
for a brief run in January 2006.

 Made under the aegis of
InDigEnt, Gary Winnick’s brainchild
production company that allows movie makers to shoot on digital
PIZZA was shot over a couple weeks in the summer of 2003.
It’s basically a two-hander set over the course of one night. Cara-Ethyl
(newcomer Kylie Sparks, a real find) is an overweight misfit celebrating
her 18th birthday. Her mother (Julie Haggerty) is recovering from eye
injuries and has planned a big bash to celebrate her daughter’s birthday
– trouble is, no one has showed up.

 To compensate, Cara-Ethyl changes her voice and pretends to be
“Emily,” one of the cool girls from high school. When Matt (Ethan Embry),
a 30-year-old delivery boy, arrives with pizza, he senses a kindred spirit
in Cara-Ethyl and spontaneously invites her to ride along with him while
he makes his deliveries. Bored and up for an adventure, the young girl

 Over the course of this one night, these two oddballs fight, flirt,
and exchange the sort of love-hate dialogue one finds in romantic comedies.
What sets
PIZZA apart is that it doesn’t pander to the characters.
Christopher, who also wrote the script, laces the banter with intelligence
and truth. Cara-Ethyl, named we are told for actress-singer Irene Cara and
Ethel Mertz, sees through Matt’s schtik and senses that he’s actually lonely
and unhappy. For his part, Matt recognizes Cara-Ethyl’s smarts as well as
her sensitivity.

 Most of the film is focused on these two characters and the actors
work well together. Embry carries his part well, displaying a heretofore
unseen capacity for leading roles. (He’s previously excelled in supporting
parts.) Sparks is a real find: she manages to convey both the naiveté of a
young girl with the world-weariness of a mature adult. Their scenes
together sparkle and crackle -- there's a genuine sense of camaraderie
and caring.

 Additonally, the film is peppered with cameo appearances by several
well-regarded actors, many from the New York stage. Tony® winner Richard
Easton has a memorable part as a drama teacher, while Miriam Shor makes
the most of her brief turn as a foul-mouthed prostitute. Joey Kern is amusing
as Matt’s clothing-challenged roommate, while Alexis Dziena does a fine job
as the real Emily. Julie Haggerty, hampered by having to wear bandages
over her expressive eyes, does an adequate job as Cara-Ethyl’s mother.

 PIZZA is not going to be confused with a monumental work of cinema,
but like the titular dish, it’s a spicy and satisfying snack. Christopher once
again demonstrates a remarkable ability behind the camera. Let's hope it
won't take another seven or eight years for his third film to reach theaters.

 Rating:               B
 MPAA Rating:      PG-13 for sexual content, language and
                                        a brief drug reference
 Running time:     80 mins

                                Viewed at the IFC Center
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.