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‘Licorice Pizza’ movie review: Paul Thomas Anderson serves us the best kind of comfort food

A still from ‘Licorice Pizza’

A still from ‘Licorice Pizza’

Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is a 15-year-old child actor who meets and falls in love with Alana (Alana Haim), the 25-year-old photographer’s assistant on his school picture day. It is 1973, San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, and the possibilities are endless for the enterprising, which Gary has in spades.

He helps his mother in her PR firm, starts a waterbed business, which the petrol crisis puts paid to; then when he hears pinball machines are going to be made legal, he gets ahead of the curve by starting an arcade, all the while determinedly pursuing Alana and convincing her of her final destination as the future Mrs Valentine. 

The film, which has three Oscar nominations, (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay) is a delightful slice-of-life peopled with an enchanting mixture of real-life, inspired by real-life, and imaginary characters. 

Director Paul Thomas Anderson ( There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread), who has also written the film, has been quoted as saying the germ of the idea for  Licorice Pizza came when he was passing by a middle school on picture day and saw a student nagging the photographer’s assistant. The greatest oaks are truly born out of the tiniest acorns. 

Anderson’s conversations with his friend, Gary Goetzman, who was a child actor, provided meat for the story. Beautifully acted and shot — that shot of director Rex Blau (Tom Waits) appearing out of wreaths of smoke says all it needs to about the character —  Licorice Pizza is the best kind of comfort food.

Licorice Pizza
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, John C. Reilly 
Storyline: Following the love, life and hustles of a 15-year-old
Duration: 134 minutes

The acting is excellent, doing exactly all it has to, for the audience to be invested in the story. Anderson has a close relationship with Alana, having shot many of her pop rock group, Haim’s, music videos. Anderson apparently wrote the role with Alana in mind. Her sisters, Danielle and Este, and parents, Moti and Donna, appear in the film as her family. 

Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour Hoffman, makes an assured debut with a delightfully natural performance. Sean Penn is watchable and spectacular as always, as actor Jack Holden, based on the 50s superstar William Holden. Bradley Cooper is brilliant as film producer Jon Peters, personifying the aggression and bluster of that breed of film folk.

John C. Reilly playing actor Fred Gwynne, Benny Safdie as closeted politician Joel Wachs running for office, John Michael Higgins as Jerry Frick the businessman who does not know Japanese but nevertheless runs the Mikado Hotel, Christine Ebersole as actor Lucy Doolittle (based on Lucille Ball), and Harriet Sansom Harris as Gary’s agent Mary Grady, all breathe life into their roles. 

Licorice Pizza is gripping and entertaining, with many takeaways including Alana’s expert backing down a hill of the big, fat truck, the lead pair’s unaffected performances, Penn’s undeniable charisma, an irresistible air of nostalgia and all-round upbeat air. It is just what the doctor ordered in these gloomy, gloopy days. 

Licorice Pizza is currently running in theatres 

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Printable version | Mar 2, 2022 3:42:04 pm |