By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
If one happens to be a fan of time capsule, “ride along,” slice-of-life movies, then Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza is definitely one’s jam. Other similar movies include Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, and George Lucas’ American Graffiti. In fact the title cards that Anderson uses in his opening and closing credits look nearly identical to the one’s that Lucasfilm use in Graffiti. While there is no singular plot to Licorice Pizza (and other similar films that have inspired it), the movie captures a particular era in human history, and the audience rides along with the character’s lives and (mis)adventures.
With gorgeous cinematography, equally beautiful set and production design, and some compelling and colorful characters, P.T. Anderson takes his audiences on journey involving two young people as they struggle with life, love, and uncertain futures. The movie takes place in 1973 San Fernando Valley. 15-year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) might be a young high school student, but he certainly aspires to find success as either an actor or businessman. He is a goal-oriented go-getter, and when he crosses paths with 25-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim), he falls hard and sets his sights on becoming her boyfriend.
Kane, who is a somewhat cynical and tough young woman, initially feels annoyed that a young high school kid wants to woo her, but there is definitely a charming and disarming quality to Gary with which she cannot help but become enamored. Alana, though 25, has been struggling to discover a career that feels right to her and suffers from a bit of arrested development, despite tough facade. As she becomes friends with Gary and more involved in his life and exploits, she begins to develop feelings for him.
Though have a few gripes with this movie, I still found myself so captivated with this fillm and these characters. Anderson has such a wonderful talent for transporting his audience to his world and totally immersing them in it. The writing, the direction, and the use of music feels much more akin to his previous film Boogie Nights which takes audiences into the world of the 1970s porn business. Though the proceeds of this movie are much more sweet and innocent, Anderson simply knows how to enchant people with his sensory experience and knows how to work the heartstrings.
He also has a delightful and sharp sense of humor that works tremendously in this movie. I feel that there is one particular gag in this movie that will probably offend some people, and that’s a fair reaction. However, I also believe that it was his intention for these jokes to be cringey for the sake of commentary on racism and how it drives people to utterly ridiculous behavior.
Initially, I was a little put off by the age difference between Alana and Gary, but Anderson keeps their interactions mostly innocent and never delves into expoitative sexual territory. His intention is to tell a heartfelt story of young love and capture how exciting that experience is. That said; I still wonder why Anderson didn’t just simply make Alana either the same age as Gary or at least closer in age. Alana Haim actually could believably portray a slightly older teenager than Gary and I thought that would have been a wiser choice.
And regardless of her character’s age, Alana Haim still shines in her debut role as an actor. She beautifully captures the internal conflicts of her character that involve her desires for love and happiness, but shows a palpable vulnerability and sensitivity that makes Alana Kane more endearing. As Gary Valentine, Cooper Hoffman shows that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Hoffman shows great potential for success as an actor and completely embodies his role. His father Philip Seymour Hoffman would be proud that his son is following in his footsteps and is succeeding so far.
The movie features a wide variety of supporting characters including Alana Haim’s entire family portraying Kane’s family. And there are a some supporting appearances that stand out and steal the scenes that they are in. Firstly, Sean Penn has a small, but impactful part as actor William Holden and certainly lives up to Holden’s reputation. The same goes for Bradley Cooper, who gives an absolutely hilarious and riotous turn as Jon Peters. Peters, who was a hairdresser and Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend during the film’s era eventually would become a successful movie producer. Throughout the more high profile times of his life he developed quite the reputation as a wild, hot tempered womanizer, and Cooper channels these traits so incredibly. Every scene he is in is insanely funny, but also slightly unnerving, as one doesn’t know when Peters will completely fly off the handle.
Though this movie has its imperfections, and certain aspects could’ve been executed a little better, Licorice Pizza is still a great and admirable entry by Anderson. As a fan of pretty much every film he has made, I was genuinely was not disappointed with the movie, even if it isn’t as extraordinary as some of his previous works. I can easily see me doing a double feature of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood with Licorice Pizza or pairing the movie with Anderson’s older movie Boogie Nights. I am a big fan of time capsule, “ride along,” slice of life movies and this one is one of the great ones.