Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2021 movie depicts a summer love tale right in the middle of winter.
On paper, “Licorice Pizza” is no different than Paul Thomas Anderson’s other films, a staple of which has always been the odd love story. In the past he’s covered such stories from the perspective of those struggling with social anxiety, and in “The Phantom Thread” he explored themes of maternal love. However, his newest spin on this old topic is what makes “Licorice Pizza” stand out amongst the rest.
Alana Haim, of the band Haim, plays Alana Kane, a directionless 25-year-old who meets 15-year-old Gary Valentine, a young entrepreneur, portrayed by Cooper Hoffman. This is both actors’ debut roles and it was a stellar way to make a first impression. The film is spent exploring their developing relationship and its various problems made more apparent by their ten year age gap.
Licorice Pizza begins with its best foot forward. From the start you’re struck with the strange chemistry the two characters immediately share. Gary is optimistic and naive, while Alana is dismissive and existential. This charming fire and ice dynamic is what carries the film and allows the audience to connect to these two contrasting characters. Gary represents the part of Alana that’s been broken down by societal expectations and conformity. After getting her to quit her job as a photographer’s assistant and involving her in his waterbed business, her attitude completely changes and the two grow from each other’s company.
If there’s one trait the two unequivocally share, it’s their immaturity. This is ultimately what gives way to their realistic character flaws. They act erratically at times, making choices that pluck at the heartstrings. Oftentimes it’s one person getting jealous over the other, creating a unique tug of war dynamic between the two. It’s a “will they, won’t they?” kind of screenplay, but made into a comedic and bitterly relatable part of the film.
As per PTA, the directing and writing is top notch. The world is crafted so seamlessly you almost don’t notice yourself being more and more engrossed in 1970’s Los Angeles. Several character shifts unfold throughout the narrative, keeping the audience constantly engaged. While this may sound redundant, PTA remains a master of tonal consistency. There are moments of comedy but others that are far more gloomy and slow. However, nothing feels out of place or half-baked. Each action subtly propels the story further.
Going further, the film is simply gorgeous to witness in all its 70mm glory. It’s as if the streets of Los Angeles never veered from their historical roots. Making the film take place in the disco era is a great idea for the overarching backdrop. It’s easy to forget that in the modern age, we have far more avenues of connection than we did in the past. However, in the film a simple phone call from one character to another is a major moment between the two of them. Chance meetings feel a lot more natural and overall people are confined to being more intimate with one another. PTA does a good job of reminding you of that, as each character interaction is very meaningful, with not a second wasted. If that wasn’t enough, the natural vocabulary of each personality includes a wide range of old slang evocative of the peace-loving times.
“Licorice Pizza” isn’t an over-the-top story that’s meant to make you change the way you think about love, nor does it really have to be. It plays out more like a long vignette tempered with nostalgia and classic romantic beats we’ve all grown to appreciate. A Christmas release date almost feels appropriate for the film, despite not having anything to do with the holiday. It’s welcoming and familiar but special enough to be considered a gift.
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
star ring: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman
Release Date: Nov 26, 2021
Image courtesy of We Got This Covered.