Review: Licorice Pizza

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Title: Licorice Pizza
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, Tom Waits
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 2 hr 13 mins

What Is Is: A young actor, Gary Valentine (Hoffman), begins seeing an older (yet not as matured) girl, Alana (Haim); their friendship and underlying love for one another blossoms over off-the-wall experiences they share together throughout the San Fernando Valley in 1973.

What We Think: Paul Thomas Anderson is without a doubt one of the greatest filmmakers of the generation. His span from down-to-earth dramedy epics to deeply profound and psychological character studies is as impressive as it is awe-inspiring. If one would take that as ‘heaping praise’ and expect me to drone on, please do not be discouraged. If you’re not familiar with Anderson’s filmography like me or his fans, I envy you. Licorice Pizza is a wonderful introduction to Anderson’s storytelling style and substance, and if you’re thinking of going to see it this week – I’d urge you to save a seat at your local theater.

The two lead performances by Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman are one of the many captivating arteries that lead into this film’s pulsating heart. The way in which their quips, jabs, and longing looks are exchanged is so endearing… fantastic chemistry here. They also shine on their own, of course – Hoffman is charming, loveable, and innocent, at times emitting this quirky coolness that is undeniably delightful to watch. On the other hand, Alana Haim gives a performance that you just can’t take your eyes off of. She graces the screen with her alluring gaze and heartwarming smile, while bringing a great amount of emotion as well. The supporting cast members (Penn, Cooper, Safdie, Waits) are also all wonderful, and they embrace the absurd sides of their characters scarily (and hilariously) well. However, what makes all of these performances so good is that they all feel like normal people in the 1970’s. I don’t think that there was one scene where I thought “Oh! It’s what’s-his-name!”, rather I purely invested in the characters and what they were doing. That, of course, is a testament to how well this film’s screenplay is written.

Another standout aspect of the film is the cinematography. Licorice Pizza has a vintage and immersive style that combines the look of American Graffiti with the precise camerawork of Anderson’s prior film Phantom Thread. Indeed, Graffiti is one of the main inspirations for this film, and Anderson/Bauman’s work here evokes that nostalgic feeling of an almost bygone era (the production design here is spectacular, also). The fuzzy, beautifully lit 35mm celluloid look with deep colors and shadows is sweet and satisfying for those who appreciate film photography – an incredibly well-shot film. Along with those visuals comes a bombastic soundtrack and score that blasts us even further into the film’s time period. The sounds of Bowie, Wings, Simone, and ultimately the brilliant Jonny Greenwood breathe musical oxygen into the lungs of this story, and I would be lying if I said that the film would feel the same if they weren’t present.

You might have noticed that I’ve used a couple of circulatory system metaphors here. The sole reason for me doing that is due to the pure love and heart that lies within and behind the frames of Licorice Pizza. Anderson brings back frequent collaborators here, some in more personal ways than others, and there are small cameos of friends and family of his throughout that make the film so… touching. The totally bonkers events that occur here are very entertaining to ride along with, the story is so brilliantly directed and written, and I cannot think of anything that took me away from that experience; an experience of first love, crazy antics, and adventures through memorable characters that are anything but dull.

What We Think: A+; There’s no other way I can really say this – Licorice Pizza is a film that captured my heart. Paul Thomas Anderson brings an unorthodox yet stirring love story with terrific performances and a presentation like no other – this overjoyed critic and filmmaker cannot recommend it more. Do us a favor, and catch it in theaters!

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