Licorice Pizza (2021)

Movie Title: Licorice Pizza

Year Released: 2021

Rated: R

Runtime: 2h 13min

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, Skyler Gisondo, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, John Michael Higgins, Christine Ebersole, Harriet Sansom Harris, Ryan Heffington, Nate Mann, Joseph Cross, Isabelle Kusman, Destry Allyn Spielberg, George DiCaprio, Iyana Halley, Ray Chase, Emma Dumont, Yumi Mizui, Megumi Anjo, Tim Conway Jr., Emily Althaus, Milo Herschlag, Moti Haim, Donna Haim, Este Haim, Danielle Haim

Review: Photographer Alana Kane (Alana Haim), who happens to be 25 years old, and 15-year-old child actor Gary Valentine grow up, run around, and fall in love in California's San Fernando Valley in the 1970s.

Licorice Pizza is a 1970's coming-of-age dramedy that re-invents the rom-com as we know it. There's a level of innocence to this movie as 15-year-old Gary Valentine falls in love for presumably the first time. His love for 25-year-old Alana Kane meanders from romantic love to the love of a close friend. As a viewer, I never could quite pick up on what type of love I was watching blossom, but it was love nonetheless. The plot doesn't really have a beginning, middle, and end, but merely illustrates the lives of two vastly different people who find themselves through shared experiences in 1970's California. This film is an ode to that time and place, and carries a light-hearted vibe despite some of the racist, homophobic, and misogynistic aspects it depicts.

Don't get me wrong, racism, homophobia, and misogyny aren't inherently funny. But when you frame it as outlandish buffoonery like Paul Thomas Anderson does, it really makes it quite funny. For example, John Michael Higgins plays Jerry Frick, a businessman and owner of a Japanese restaurant. Throughout the movie he has multiple Japanese wives who don't speak English. When addressing his wives, he uses an overtly racist Asian accent that you can't help but laugh at because of how just outwardly absurd it is. The idea here, is that the joke is on him; he's an imbecile. Bradley Cooper, who may be my favorite part of the movie, is a menace in every scene he's in, portraying film producer Jon Peters. In a completely over-the-top way, Peters is depicted as an egomaniac obsessed with sex, who loves to flaunt the fact that he's dating Barbara Streisand. He's also very likely to be hopped up on a number of drugs. Cooper pulls this off convincingly. And while the character is a misogynistic and combative pig, he's freaking hilarious as he's charging around town threatening children and beating up unsuspecting souls at gas stations. It should also be noted that both Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman are making their feature-film debuts, and do so masterfully as our central budding couple in the film.

Alana and Gary's relationship is definitely weird at times. It's taboo considering one is 25 and the other is 15, and at first can be a bit cringeworthy as Gary incessantly hits on the woman 10 years his senior. With that said, there's a level of playfulness in it as time moves on and Gary sees Alana for who she is and genuinely cares for her. I was confused at times by the twists and turns that their relationship took, but their loving friendship is undeniably sweet. The most fulfilling part of this movie is watching these two grow together as individuals. Gary's belief in Alana allows her to become more confident in herself as she gets an acting role and becomes an entrepreneur. Alana's growing feelings for Gary kind of reign him in from his cocky child-actor ways seen earlier in the movie, as they form a cohesive partnership to pivot and start a waterbed business.

I didn't know what to make of this movie as it sort of wanders around at times. Through it all, I found myself liking it despite not really knowing why. It's a fun, silly depiction of growing up in 1970's California. I found myself laughing and smiling throughout the entire movie even though I was confused and bewildered at times. There are real characters interacting with fake characters almost in the vein of a revisionist history tale. This movie doesn't always make sense, but it's an amalgamation of wacky characters and hilarious situations that had me yearning for what unexpected clown show would happen next. As a 2022 Oscar-nomination for Best Picture, I can't recommend Licorice Pizza enough!

Stars (out of 4):

Fun Fact: None of the younger cast members were aware that Bradley Cooper was involved in the film until he came charging at them in full costume while the cameras were rolling. The final take used in the film where his character Jon Peters introduces himself and asks who is in charge was the first time Cooper Hoffman or Alana Haim saw him.


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