Published on February 17th, 2022 | by Craig Silliphant0
Licorice Pizza is the new film from the master Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s as rewarding as it is frustrating, but it definitely begs repeat viewings.
In Licorice Pizza, Gary Valentine is a 15-year old child actor, running around the San Fernando Valley in LA in 1973. He meets Alana Kane, a woman in her mid-to-late-20s, who seems to be drifting through her life. But he’s a bit of a good-hearted hustler, and when he falls in love with her, he pulls her into his life. Yes, Cooper Hoffman is Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s son. Yes, Alana Kane is Alana Haim from the pop trio Haim (PTA has directed several of their videos). And yes, that’s the rest of Haim, including her real parents, playing her family. Hoffman and Haim are a great pair and Haim is especially great.
This movie was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA), who is probably my favourite modern filmmaker. He made the greatest film of the 21st century so far — There Will Be Blood. So I was very conscious of managing my expectations walking into the theatre. The only PTA film I don’t love is Inherent Vice. It’s brilliant in so many ways, but I just can’t seem to stay on its wavelength. However, a movie like The Master, which used to leave me sort of cold, gets better with each viewing. And strangely, so does There Will Be Blood, which I loved upon first viewing. Somehow, it manages to get better every time.
But Licorice Pizza is a different animal than any of those films, perhaps different than anything he’s made before. If you had to compare it to something, it might be Punch Drunk Love, but they’re still very different movies.
There are some really fun characters and performances, especially Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters, the real-life hairdresser turned Hollywood producer. Peters produced the ‘89 Batman as well as other films, including Bradley Cooper’s, A Star is Born. He was the basis for Warren Beatty’s character in Hal Ashby’s Shampoo and dated Barbra Streisand in the 70s. Cooper plays him with gusto, realistic and cartoonish at the same time. Sean Penn also shows up to play Jack Holden, a stand-in for actor William Holden.
The issue that holds me back is that the film has a wormy little plot, which is to say, it doesn’t really have a plot. Sure, I gave you a synopsis at the start, but I can’t really tell you what the movie was about beyond this story of friendship and love. Is it about child actors? Waterbeds? The oil crisis? The run for mayor of LA?
The magic 8-ball says these things are unclear. The movie, like Gary and Alana, seem to float through time; sometimes scenes breeze by, sometimes they’re rendered in excruciating details, but seem to go nowhere. But maybe that doesn’t matter? Maybe it’s meant to be more impressionistic, like Tree of Life, but slightly less dreamy. Hell, maybe Gary and Alana are running down an LA street, in and out of traffic, together in a dream. Is it Gary’s dream? Alana’s? Maybe repeat viewings will show me all of this. It’s worth noting that much of the film is based on the true anecdotes of Anderson and his friend Gary Goetzman, who was a child actor.
You came here to get an opinion and I don’t have one. Yet. I need to see it again to decide if some of this stuff ultimately works. But overall, while I liked it, it’s not going to supplant movies like Boogie Nights, Magnolia, or There Will Be Blood. It’s still rolling around in my head, which is a good sign.
A few things are certain; their story feels unique and fairly uncharted in popular culture. The film is full of the magic and nostalgia of first love, the push and pull of young feelings like love, anger, confusion, longing, and joy. Licorice Pizza is imbued with a dashing-madly-down-the-street-in-the-sunshine-while-blasting-David-Bowie’ kind of energy. I trust the master, and thus, I trust that the movie is sound — it’s me that needs to approach it properly.