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Licorice Pizza encapsulates how unexpected, unsure, and complicated first loves can be through the lens of a woman in her early 20s and a high school boy, as the two run around the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s.
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood), the film stars first-time actress Alana Haim, known on the music scene, alongside other newcomer Cooper Hoffman (son of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman), who anchor this film as the two unlikely young loves.
Peppered throughout are some familiar faces such as Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn, Tom Waits and Christine Ebersole (Confessions of a Shopaholic, Wolf of Wall Street).
As per usual in PT Anderson films, his wife Maya Rudolph makes a cameo and, also as per usual, it’s never enough time with her.
If you’re in the mood for a film that leaves you saying, “I don’t know what is happening, but I’m here for it,” Licorice Pizza is for you.
The film centers on Alana Haim’s character Alana Kane (far cry) and her journey with 15-year-old actor Gary Valentine (I know). From the get go, the dialogue dances between familiar and heightened.
While Gary plays well beyond his years in both that charming and annoying way young actors who don’t know how the world beyond L.A. can be, Alana starts off seemingly in control and armed with perfect retorts. There’s a When Harry Met Sally-esque montage where Alana is Harry but Gary is also kind of Harry. You’re not sure how to feel about these two as a potential couple, but you know there’s something there that makes you want to go along for the ride.
This contrast of relatable emotional dynamics — in situations that are almost relatable until they become ridiculous — is layered throughout the film. Plot points such as 15-year-old Gary showing up as a regular in a darkly lit bar/restaurant named Tail o’ The Cock (which is more drinks than food) and Alana deftly maneuvering a water bed-moving truck backwards through windy Valley roads leave you as intrigued as the enigmatic title of the film (more on that below).
The transportation to ’70s Los Angeles is largely done through production design, costuming, and music (plus Jonny Greenwood’s score), which are all effective in adding character to the film.
There are delightful scenes that could satiate as stand alone short films, such as Bradley Cooper playing a somewhat unhinged Jon Peters during the period when he was Barbara Streisand’s sex-obsessed boyfriend, and Harriet Sansom Harris (Phantom Thread) nailing an off-her-rocker Hollywood agent full of industry indoctrination.
A love letter to how unapologetic hormones and Los Angeles can be, Licorice Pizza is a collection of engaging moments that will elicit a range of reactions, from laughter to confusion, that will keep you wanting to stay in this world for a little over two hours (which is a short film for P.T. Anderson).
Watch this with a spiked Shirley Temple and maybe some ketamine. The film is sweet and messed up and very much worth the experience. For cinephiles, you’ll want to try to see in theaters that project 35mm.
Licorice Pizza is named after a defunct Southern California record-store chain. To anyone who grew up there in the ’70s and ’80s the reference will be instantly familiar. For everyone else, well, there’s always Google.