While I admit to not seeing all of his films just yet, it does not take much to realize that director Paul Thomas Anderson is indeed what one could call an acquired taste. It is a lighter affair this time around for Licorice Pizza, but it does not at all make it less fascinating.
Taking place in the San Fernando Valley in 1973, the film is not so much a story as much as it is a bunch of adventures. They revolve around 15 year old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) as he meets the 25 year old Alana Kane (Alana Haim) on picture day (she is a photo assistant). Despite the age difference, there is still a connection.
Gary is a former child star of sorts, trying to expand his vision past High School (while pursuing Alana in the process). Meanwhile, Alana is in the “what’s next?” stage of life, as she still takes odd jobs while living at home (her family in the movie is played by her real life family). She eventually tries her hand at auditioning for movie roles with Gary’s help.
The adventures they go on (both together and on their own) I will not spoil. I will do my best only to hint at them. These journeys include waterbeds, pinball machines (which I never knew till this film were once banned in parts of the US), arrests, and a good amount of waterbeds.
Even without the use of title cards, the film is still very episodic. While none of the supporting characters are playing actual people, there are some that are clearly based off of Hollywood icons, including Lucille Ball and William Holden. Some of the supporting cast includes the likes Tom Waits, Christine Ebersole, Sean Penn, Maya Rudolph (PTA’s wife), Benny Safdie, and (possibly the biggest scene stealer in any 2021 film) Bradley Cooper.
In the end, the performances that stick are those of Hoffman and Haim. While neither have acted before (Cooper’s late father was in a good amount of previous Anderson films), they both don’t show any signs of amateurishness. They are so believable you almost forget that there is a questionable age difference (Haim is actually a little more than a decade older than Hoffman in real life). Each has a talent that PTA has been able to mine.
Parents, this is a movie that, while rated R, would be okay for High Schoolers. There is indeed cursing, as well as sexual content (no nudity), but a mature High Schooler would be fine seeing this coming-of-age dramedy.
As of this writing, this is only the 5th Paul Thomas Anderson I have seen (his resumé now sits at 9.) He is not a stranger to Oscar nominations (both Best Director and Best Screenplay),but is a stranger to Oscar wins. Licorice Pizza could change that (especially for Original Screenplay).
Even if you did not like this film, you would still find ways to come back to appreciate the skill that Anderson has as a film maker(there are certain shots in the film, such as one where the two characters are walking into an audition, that will leave you awestruck). It is all bluntly mesmerizing.
In no way shape or form is this not one of the year’s best films.