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Licorice Pizza – Movie Review

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Licorice Pizza – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

Paul Thomas Anderson has made a career out of exploring characters wandering through life or trying to serve a greater purpose. His movies do have plots, but he’s primarily interested in seeing how his characters navigate the world. Whether it’s about a young porn star or a vicious oil baron or a former sailor getting embroiled in a cult, part of what makes his work so intriguing are the people that inhabit them. Licorice Pizza doesn’t follow an ordinary story structure and is instead more-so a series of episodes. Following two immature youngsters, the movie explores their differences and the odd connection they share and Anderson successfully brings the audience back to California in 1973.

Both Gary and Alana are intriguing personalities from the beginning and Anderson is able to quickly establish their personalities. Gary is full of himself and assumes he is wise beyond his years, when he’s clearly anything but. Alana is a lot older, but still lost as she wonders why she hangs out with these teenagers. Anderson writes them some great dialogue that do the job of showing exactly who these characters are. He’s also helped by the actors. Cooper Hoffman is excellent in his film debut, with Gary coming across like a real teenager. Everything about him feels genuine, which is why Gary’s attempts to act older obviously comes across as not fitting someone his age. His comments are immature and lame. Befitting the episodic structure of the film, he constantly comes up with new hare-brained schemes and these are fun to watch unfold.

Alana Haim similarly deserves praise for her performance. She has several great scenes opposite Hoffman, but she also does well with the quieter moments when Alana is thinking to herself. Licorice Pizza has one of Anderson’s funniest screenplays in a while. While humour certainly appeared in the likes of Phantom Thread and The Master, the tone of this movie is closer to Boogie Nights. An awkward Shabbat dinner with Alana’s family and a potential boyfriend is one of the highlights, but the movie especially reaches its peek when Jon Peters enters the picture. A hair dresser who eventually became a producer on the 1976 remake of A Star is Born and Tim Burton’s Batman, Peters is infamous within Hollywood circles.

Even though Bradley Cooper’s screentime is limited, he makes the most of it and launches into a memorable performance. Even the way he walks is hilarious and one can definitely believe this is the same person who requested that Superman not fly in a cancelled movie about the Man of Steel. Anderson even slips in a nod to Kevin Smith’s legendary retelling of his meetings with Peters. It’s difficult to top this section and admittedly, a portion about a local political campaign ends up feeling more down-to-earth by comparison. Nonetheless, Anderson sticks the landing as one leaves the movie thinking about where Gary and Alana’s lives will take them next.

Even though Paul Thomas Anderson was only three years old during the time Licorice Pizza is set, the movie still feels like this nostalgic ode to the decade he grew up in and what it must have been like to grow up in the San Fernando Valley. There’s a joy that permeates through the movie as he tells these stories involving his lead protagonists. These feel like real, flawed people we’re following and that includes the unorthodox casting choices made. Every single character in this movie, major or minor, leaves an impression and makes one wonder what their whole story is. Anderson just has that ability at making us invested in the people on-screen.

Stefan Ellison