Licorice Pizza

United Artists Releasing

Reviewed for by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper, Tom Waits, Benny Safdie, Skyler Gisondo, Christine Ebersole

Screened at: Regency Village Theatre, LA, 12/8/21

Opened: November 26th, 2021

There are defining moments of any time period that make it easy to identify. Audiences watching older films or television series may not be immediately able to peg a year or era if they themselves did not live through it, and a setting isn’t necessarily crucial to a particular story. But there are elements of any plot that guide the nature of relationships and events, if only because of the available technology and methods of communication and transportation. Licorice Pizza is an ode to a clear space and time that doubles as a universal and highly enjoyable adventure for all to experience.

Gary (Cooper Hoffman) is a fifteen-year-old actor with an extremely gregarious personality and a drive to accomplish anything he sets his mind to, no matter how elaborate. He is taken right away with Alana (Alana Haim), who points out to him that she is twenty-five and far too old for him, but agrees to be his chaperone on a press trip and then begins to spend more and more time with him. As he begins a new business selling waterbeds and other ambitious schemes, Gary pines over Alana, who is always by his side but never ready to commit to the kind of relationship he most wants from her.

This film is set in 1973 in Los Angeles, and the clothes of its characters and the cars they drive are enough of an indicator for when it’s meant to take place. But their attitudes and the activities they engage in are even more helpful in ensuring its ties to that location and moment in time. It’s easy to be drawn in to the allure of this simpler time in which phone calls might be harder to make but so much else seems possible. Gary’s achievements at such a young age show his ingenuity and resolve, and it’s hard not to root for his success because he’s just so charming.

The romantic relationship at the root of this film is, as Alana immediately tells Gary, illegal, and that setup may be alienating enough to some to avoid watching the film altogether. But those who do stick around will find a genuine friendship that builds and which is not just one thing, full of plenty of banter that shows the true ages of its characters, which, a decade or two later, won’t make much of a difference but at the current gaps, can only allow for so much collaboration and mutual understanding given the incongruity of their life experiences.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson has not made many films over the course of his career, churning out eight features over the course of twenty-one years prior to this production. In each, he has engaged a talented cast in a rich, layered story, inviting audiences to experience a magnificently-constructed world. That is most definitely the case here, and, as in the past, he utilizes well-known performers in key supporting roles to enhance scenes that might otherwise be forgotten, including Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, and Mary Elizabeth Ellis.

But Anderson’s most remarkable feat here is the discovery of not one but two incredible acting talents. Haim, a musician, is hilarious and unforgettable as Alana, and she’s joined by her real-life family and bandmates playing those same roles. Hoffman, the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, a frequent collaborator of Anderson’s, is equally superb, energetic and lively with a great sense of comic timing. Haim and Hoffman have extraordinary chemistry, and they make what would likely have been an already solid film an even more endearing must-see experience.

Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman (l-r) star in writer-director-producer Paul Thomas Anderson’s romantic comedy-drama, ‘Licorice Pizza.’

133 minutes

Story – B+

Acting – A-

Technical – B+

Overall – B+

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