Licorice Pizza review: Lead actors elevate Paul Thomas Anderson’s nostalgia trip | Hollywood - Hindustan Times
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Licorice Pizza review: Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman elevate Paul Thomas Anderson’s nostalgia trip to greatness

Feb 25, 2022 09:01 AM IST

Licorice Pizza review: Paul Thomas Anderson’s ninth film, also starring Bradley Cooper and Sean Penn, follows a teenage romance in 1970s’ California.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza has the most well-earned final-scene kiss I have seen in a long, long time. The blessed couple are Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman). At the start of the film set in 1970s’ San Fernando Valley, California, Alana is 25 and Gary is 15. I don’t know what Alana and Gary’s ages are when they kiss at the end of the 134-minute film, and this review is not the kind of review that’s going to dwell on that. This review is about how Licorice Pizza made my heart full.

Licorice Pizza review: Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim in a still from the film.
Licorice Pizza review: Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim in a still from the film.

Also read: I Want You Back review: A pleasant, serviceable rom-com that’s low on laughs

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Licorice Pizza is Anderson’s most breezy and light-hearted film till date, which is a relief. His early works always carried a neurotic edge as they headed towards inevitable tragedy and painful catharsis. Since his highly acclaimed 2007 film There Will Be Blood, Anderson’s films began to evoke a whole new level of oddity, most definitely aided by Jonny Greenwood’s off-kilter scores, and an all-round filmmaking finesse that instantly made Anderson one of Hollywood’s most formidable and intimidating filmmakers.

These films tackled emotionally taxing subject matter, while also providing insightful commentary on American history and culture. Even his previous feature film, Phantom Thread, was a love story only by definition. The film itself dug its nails so deep inside the power equations of a cis-het relationship that I believe most straight audiences, as the kids say these days, felt deeply and horrifyingly… seen.

Which is why Licorice Pizza’s warmth and charm was such a huge surprise. And Anderson, as expected of a filmmaker of his calibre, knocks it out of the park. Licorice Pizza is Anderson weaving a nostalgia trip out of his memories of growing up in the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s, but most of it has been inspired by the stories told to him by film producer and former child actor Gary Goetzman. He is the inspiration for the film’s hero Gary, a young actor-turned-entrepreneur.

Licorice Pizza begins with Gary seeing Alana, a photographer’s assistant at his school, and falling in love at first sight. Gary, a real charmer, flirts with Alana, who is obviously drawn to him. But Alana, possibly keeping the age difference in mind, doesn’t act on her feelings, or maybe, they aren’t strong enough for her to address.

Licorice Pizza then gives us one vignette after another: incredibly written and directed scenes, which are extremely entertaining and brimming with Anderson’s trademark emotional intelligence. Through these passages, Alana and Gary’s relationship evolves, as they co-found a waterbed business and run it as partners. The 1973 American oil crisis plays an important role in the screenplay, as does the youth-focused Teen-Age Fair. They are among the many real-life incidents and Los Angeles trademarks which add to an authenticity that could only be arrived at when the makers belong to the film’s milieu and have a deep attachment to it.

The best quality of Anderson’s screenplay here, which is also evident in his earlier films, is that his writing won’t give you distinct cause-effect understanding of the film’s plot developments. His writing is more like: this happened maybe because that had happened five scenes back? So, exactly how Alana’s feelings for Gary begin to grow until she just has no choice but to act on them is difficult to track. You sense the undercurrent in Alana and Gary’s equation constantly changing shape in each scene, and by the time the tension is resolved, you know what we see on screen was the only possible outcome.

Anderson’s extremely powerful writing, as always, is carried by stellar performances. First-time actors Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman are an absolute treat to watch. Alana Haim is one of three Haim sisters who form the music group Haim. Her performance is the soul of Licorice Pizza. She is so raw and real, it’s just incredible to sit back and watch. Cooper Hoffman, son of the acting legend, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a born star. That’s a claim I can make at least on the basis of this movie. Gary’s character is extremely confident, resourceful and sincere, and Hoffman’s portrayal is just spot-on.

Licorice Pizza also features cameos from top stars such as Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper. Penn plays Jack Holden, based on Hollywood star William Holden. Cooper plays an aggressive version of real-life Hollywood producer Jon Peters. The film is packed with characters which are either real-life Hollywood celebrities/Los Angeles personalities or are inspired by them.

The actors cast in these roles are accomplished performers and entertainers from across the board. Alana’s family is played by the actual Haim sisters and their parents. Leonardo DiCaprio’s father George DiCaprio appears in a wacky cameo. Anderson’s real-life partner, comedian and actor Maya Rudolph, has a small role. Tom Waits appears as a filmmaker. Benny Safdie (co-director of Uncut Gems) is virtually unrecognisable as real-life politician Joel Wachs.

These extremely colourful people play very colourful characters, adding to the richness of Licorice Pizza. The film’s title, inspired by a now-defunct record-store chain in Southern California, feels like something you can taste and feel happy about. That’s the exact mood Anderson’s going for. This is his American Graffiti, Almost Famous, or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; a heartfelt love letter to his Californian childhood. It’s a film in which you can tangibly feel the writer-director’s deep love for cinematic craft and all the little things that make us human. What more can you ask from a film?

Film: Licorice Pizza

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper

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