Reviewed by Jason Osiason
Licorice Pizza is a whole lot of movie. It’s a zany deep dive into the thought-provoking culture and politics of the early 1970s era. It is also a love letter to the Los Angeles director Paul Thomas Anderson grew up in but is also one of the most heart-wrenchingly pure romances ever depicted on screen. Most importantly, it’s one of the best movies I’ve laid eyes on in the last several years. Our on-screen hero is 15-year old Gary Valentine played by Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), an exceedingly confident jack of all trades. He is a womanizer, an entrepreneur of many businesses, and possibly his generation’s most extraordinary young acting talent. Valentine is birthed from an era void of political correctness and full of unorthodox romantic beginnings. Where everything and anything is possible. His only known weakness is his endless chase of 25-year old Alana Kane, played by Alana Haim, and the unpredictable journey of self-discovery that awaits from it.
Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the greatest filmmakers alive, reveals his tenderest shade. Still, Licorice Pizza is an amalgamation of many familiar themes he’s already explored, such as capitalism, race relations, romance, religion, toxic relationships, and the general morality of people. Yet, for the second time in a row after Phantom Thread, he follows two characters intimately in a former period of time, but Anderson’s filmmaking has never felt so consuming and alive. One of the things I love most about Paul Thomas Anderson movies is that we can look back on his films many years from now, and you would never know what era they were made in. His stories and visual literacy are timeless and untypical to any other American filmmaker out there. No one else can induce raging goosebumps the way Anderson can simply by having his lead actress slowly walking to the camera that he is personally in control of. Anderson is a filmmaker as confident as they come regarding visual scope, originality, and inspired casting. He casts his lead characters in ways you can not imagine anyone else playing them by the conviction they possess.
Unlike past Anderson movies, the most recognizable celebrities come from small supporting roles and cameos such as Maya Rudolph, Tom Waits, Benny Safdie, Sean Penn, and Bradley Cooper. Cooper, for example, plays a highly dramatized version of famed film producer Jon Peters. Anderson takes a personal anecdote told to him and inserts it into his zany universe with the undercurrent setting of the great 1970’s gas crisis shortage. Cooper nearly steals the film with nearly eight minutes of screen time all leading to a wildly cathartic finale involving a semi-truck that is too good to spoil. The film is also very proudly Jewish and embraces the background of the Orthodox character Alana Kane. This brings us to one of her boyfriends played by Skyler Gisondo, who steals the small number of scenes he’s in as a Jewish Athiest Actor that works with Cooper Hoffman’s character. I’m totally here for this young actor’s rise to stardom and working his way up the auteur ladder list. One of the year’s best scenes also involves a Shabbat dinner table sequence that had me in stitches! Both Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman give spectacular performances and considering it’s their first movie ever, it’s shocking how genuine their chemistry together is on-screen. Anderson rids both of them of all makeup and embraces their youthful blemishes. Cooper Hoffman commands his wise beyond his years’ character in every scene he’s in as he acts and builds a waterbed business empire in the shadow of another iconic Anderson character, Daniel Planview. Alana Haim is multi-talented and wonderful as the character she portrays as she drifts through different careers as an actress, a photographer, and even a politician. It’s a magnetic and stunning turn from someone best known for her role in an indie-rock band. We’ve all been in her shoes and see ourselves, trying to find our place in the world as our youth escapes us, and it’s intoxicating to watch. The soundtrack perhaps isn’t as memorable as Boogie Nights, but it’s as wonderfully fitting as is customary for an Anderson film. From beginning to end, the movie does not hit a single familiar beat and every sequence feels like the unwrapping of a unique and tasty treat. All in all, Licorice Pizza is the power to find a love so deep and inexhaustible, there’s no running away despite life throwing all it has at you. I look forward to revisiting it for years to come, as well as finding new details and takeaways like the past three viewings I’ve had thus far. [A]