Licorice Pizza is one of Anderson’s most unique pictures for being so free-flowing.
Published on March 11, 2022
Rating 4 /5
Paul Thomas Anderson pulls a bit of a Richard Linklater movie with his meandering Licorice Pizza. It’s an easy-going picture of sorts that flows with a hazy nostalgic twinge, longing for the past while lamenting all its issues and heartbreak. At its core is a romance that blossoms despite the generational and class divide. But the run-up to that point of having our two leads rush into each other’s arms and a kiss is a pretty pleasing stroll.
It is 1973 San Fernando Valley and love might be in the air at a local high school. Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is a 15-year-old child actor who tries to woo school photographer Alana Kane (Alana Haim). Despite the difference in age with Alana being in her 20s, he’s hoping his resume and connections will impress her. As much as Alana tries to make the twerpy teen buzz off, there’s some charm about him she can’t shake away. Maybe there is a relationship.
Before they get to that point, they go down some pretty twisty roads, even literally at one point. Gary struggles to find work in television, mustering only commercial auditions that go nowhere. His eye catches onto a new product: water beds. He aims to sell them and hopes Alana will join him in his business venture. Since Alana’s home life isn’t much better and her love life takes some awkward turns, she decides to join him on this adventure.
And what an adventure it is. The business seems to take off but with a strained relationship between the two, where Alana finds herself becoming unsure of her feelings when Gary doesn’t seem true to her. They try to handle their business going down when an oil shortage leads to a product shortage. They encounter weird customers, such as the egotistical producer Jon Peters played with incredible ferocity by Bradley Cooper in a scene-stealing performance. Gary and Alana clash on business and politics, ultimately realizing that such forces shouldn’t be pushing this will-they-won’t-they couple out of the won’t-they camp.
Anderson’s direction here is sure to draw easy comparisons to Linklater’s Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some. There are a lot of simple moments that just stop and linger on the setting and the absurdity. At one point, Gary is wrongfully arrested for being confused as a murderer. There’s an awkward moment where he’s let free and Alana embraces him, cherishing a moment where they were there for each other when the chips were down.
The film is also fun to look around the detailed environments trying to match all the little aspects of the era. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for some surprise cameos. The Bradley Cooper cameo is certainly a highlight but it’s hard not to be a little charmed by Sean Penn playing an egotistical composite of William Holden or Tom Waits to play an eccentric film director who always finds a way to impress a crowd. Benny Safdie makes for a great politician and John Michael Higgins is horribly awkward as a white businessman of a Japanese restaurant who speaks in racist stereotypes. Also, be sure to watch closely for the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it performances of John C. Reilly plays a rather notable actor.
Licorice Pizza is one of Anderson’s most unique pictures for being so free-flowing. It ambles about with its romance, letting it all simmer and bubble beautifully amid the 1970s setting. There’s some showbiz satire here and some fad commentary there, all of it laced with hit songs of the era and a swanky style that breathes with nostalgic wonderment. This film may not be Anderson’s best but it is certainly one of his most charming.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.