Friday, December 24, 2021

Licorice Pizza

During the 70s in San Fernando Valley a 15-year-old child actor will meet a 25-year-old photographer's assistant on his yearbook picture day and nothing will ever be the same. Licorice Pizza offers the unlikely pairing of the charming hustler Gary (Cooper Hoffman) and the smart but somewhat lost Alana (Alana Haim) who begin as friends, become something more complicated, and then eventually give into their feelings for each other.

Other characters will come and go, including Bradley Cooper offering an insane take on John Peters in one of my favorite performances of the year, but the movie is about our leads' (often dysfunctional) relationship. The film takes several unexpected turns including Cooper's introduction, Gary being momentarily arrested, Alana looking for a more meaningful life working on the mayoral campaign of Joel Wachs (Benny Safdie), and Gary's various enterprises which include a waterbed company and arcade.

While the relationship is a bit of narrative fiction from writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, much of Gary's experiences are based on the real life of Gary Goetzman. Licorice Pizza may fit somewhat into the coming-of-age genre, but I'm not sure Gary actually grows much from the first scene we see him hitting on an older woman in line for a photograph until the last scene in his arcade. Gary is still Gary, and Alana is still Alana. The film is more about how these two people keep finding themselves drawn back together, despite each's attempts to sabotage what they have, than any growth either makes over the course of the film Some people, no matter how insane they drive you at times, are home.

The film is more lighthearted than much of Anderson's recent work, but the story remains captivating and punctuated by strong performances all around including our two lesser-known leads who have to sell both the awkwardness and conflict of Gary and Alana's relationship and also how it somehow works. Several familiar faces will pop-up over the course of the film to fill out the world while the 70s soundtrack featuring everything from The Doors to Taj Mahal helps ground the film in a particular time and place. I wouldn't rank Licorice Pizza on par with Anderson's best, which for me starts with a discussion of Magnolia, but it is a complete film with few flaws which is more watchable and engaging to wider audiences than some of his more dramatic projects. If your favorite PTA is Boogie Nights, this may be the film for you.

  • Title: Licorice Pizza
  • IMDb: link
Watch the trailer

No comments: