Upon first hearing the phrase, Licorice Pizza, I instinctually make a disgusted face. Now, I absolutely love pizza, but licorice? Not so much. And especially not together. Having grown up in the South, I had no idea about the Southern Californian chain of record stores bearing the name. But it’s a tasty reference used as a title to Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest feature film.
Licorice Pizza is a nostalgic, coming-of-age dramedy taking place within the San Fernando Valley in 1973. It begins with highschooler Gary Valentine (played by Cooper Hoffman) getting a crush on the photographer’s assistant, Alana Kane (Alana Haim), at first glance during Picture Day. It’s a quirky love story that includes plenty of plot twists, beginning with the age gap between the characters — she’s a young woman 10 years older than him.
Gary’s a hustler, a showman, an actor… he’s also the heart and soul of the movie. Even though he is a geeky teen, his incredible confidence, positive attitude and gung-ho ambition bring him success… and maybe, eventually the girl?
As much as I was absolutely enchanted by the storyline, I didn’t realize before watching the film all of the real-life people which it is based on. The actual people may be even more interesting than the fictionalized characters!
There are more timeline references than actual pop-culture ones making appearances here and the film’s title is never truly explained on screen, but I will never look at waterbeds the same way again (that also applies to Soggy Bottom as a reference).
Watching the official trailer (which is included below) after completing the film for the first time, I started tearing up a little, remembering how much I enjoyed it. The two lead actors actually look like real people, and that’s a great thing. They’re not supermodels or action figures. They look like believable, actual people who I might cross paths with at some point (away from Hollywood). Now, nepotism should probably be addressed, as Cooper’s father, the late Phillip Seymore Hoffman, often collaborated with Paul Thomas Anderson and this is his first true venture into the acting world, but Cooper does a great job.
And then there’s a couple of scenes that could be considered racist. Neither one felt absolutely necessary to the film, but I suppose they were both included in order to round some cultural views from this point in time. I don’t condone these scenes and they probably should have been removed from the final edit, period. But that’s a conversation that should definitely get explained in detail from the writer/director and possibly the movie’s producers. It’s absolutely possible to like this film and dislike those scenes.
The supporting actors really step it up here, as Maya Rudolph, Benny Safdie and Tom Waits are joined by the outrageously out-of-it Sean Penn and likely to gain the most publicity is Bradley Cooper’s rage cameo (Is it OK to call it a rageo?). As brief as it was, I enjoyed it more than his starring role in Nightmare Alley.
I truly enjoyed watching this film inside a movie theater with others, opposed to streaming it at home alone. I dare say it was a magical experience.
Licorice Pizza already has awards season buzz. I could see it receiving a variety of nominations and most likely PTA winning for his writing. With the ongoing controversy, he may not win the trophy for direction. It’s a great little flick that should be enjoyed inside theaters for its maximum effect!