LICORICE PIZZA gets 7/10 To the girl with the mousy hair

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper


Get ready to be transported back to the 70s. Licorice Pizza uses everything in its cinematic arsenal to fully submerge its audience back to this era and this setting, all the while focused intently on a burgeoning young romance. As successful as it is in doing this, there’s always the nagging feeling that there’s still something missing, some essential ingredient that if placed here would elevate such a film to the immense levels of writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous films.

The overall plot is simple: Gary (Cooper Hoffman) is immediately enamoured by Alana (Alana Haim) and tries to woo her, despite her not being into underage guys like himself. It appears this age difference means he’s put on the back-burner, but they still remain friends, and even became business partners as this 15 year old proves his maturity by being quite entrepreneurial.

As fun as it is to watch these vignettes of the pair (and their other teenage co-workers) getting into the businesses of water-beds, moving trucks, political campaigns, and pinball arcades, there’s a believability issue with such characters, with no sense of how they can even manage to be this business-savvy. But an issue like this is somewhat smoothed out by how incredibly engaging these two newbie performers are. Both are in their feature film debut, yet their presence on screen feels wholly human, and works twofold so when they’re sharing a scene.

It’s just a shame that their characters are a tad marred by how damn repetitive the film is: they have a good time together, then have a falling out, then run right back to each other (I think this happens five or six times in total). And the secondary characters also leave you hungry for more. A cast that involves Sean Penn, Tom Waits, and Bradley Cooper is immense, but all three actors feel so underused, despite having a blast with every second they get on screen.

The film is overall a positive viewpoint of this era, though Anderson has snuck in a bit of cynicism, yet holds back with overloading this love-letter with criticism. There is a view in this film of how Jews, Asians, and homosexuals were treated in what we see as a regressive time. But the film doesn’t take a 2021 perspective on the 70s and point a big red arrow and a disapproving wagging finger at these transgressions. They make up a dark, yet subdued aspect of an otherwise joyful era, though the realism of it is respectful.

The carefree vibe is similar to Dazed and Confused and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, where it wants to 100% evoke a specific time and place, filling the film up with all the songs, clothes, cars, girls, and boys of its era. But, it seems to be Paul Thomas Anderson’s worst film – it’s still pretty good, though it doesn’t have the intriguing and surprising romance dynamics of Phantom Thread, nor the cheeky meta-commentary of Inherent Vice, and it’s definitely not as well made or enjoyable as Boogie Nights. It’s as dedicated, as loving, and as cinematically-minded as any other Anderson film, but it doesn’t quite lift into something as meaningful as his previous work.


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