LICORICE PIZZA REVIEW
No. This is not a review of the music store that was popular in the Los Angeles region in the 1970s and 1980s. This is a review of the new Paul Thomas Anderson movie that hit theaters on Christmas. Day. Not counting the short films, documentaries, and dozens of music videos that he has directed, Licorice Pizza is Anderson’s 9th feature film. As a director who has an allergy to making bad movies (Even though Inherent Vice came close), Licorice Pizza definitely takes its place as a classic alongside the similarly 1970s era Boogie Nights as one of his best films and very possibly the best movie of 2021.
It is really hard to classify a Paul Thomas Anderson film. But when you go to a theater to watch one, his filmmaking style becomes instantly familiar. Often loaded with wonderfully long vibrant takes that help establish atmosphere mixed in with amazing cinematography and deep characterization, a PTA film is an exercise in organized chaos. Characters feel alive on the screen and their behavior and actions take the story into interesting and original directions. Licorice Pizza has a slightly different style. Really lacking a unifying plot, the movie is broken down into vignettes that revolve around the relationship of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine as they grow up in the Valley of Los Angeles in the 1970s. Alana Haim plays Alana Kane, a 25-year-old girl working dead end jobs who has no real direction in life. Her counterpart is Gary Valentine played by Cooper Hoffman, the son of Philip Seymour Hoffman who appeared in multiple Anderson films, who is an extremely confident 15-year-old teenager that owns multiple businesses throughout the movie and has made courting Alana Kane his goal despite their age difference.
Whether through an introductory scene where the camera follows our two protagonists as they meet for the first time at Valentine’s high school, to a political campaign where the sexuality of the candidate needs to be hidden at all costs due to the culture of the time, to the exceptional water bed delivery scene revolving around real life jackass Jon Peters, who was dating Barbara Streisand at the time, the movie never has one single moment of boredom. Each moment, including the Peters scene where the oil embargo in the 1970s plays a key role in what happens to each character, is pulled off with masterful precision. A simple scene where Kane is looking to get an agent with Gary’s help evolves into a wonderful monologue where the agent focuses on Kane’s Jewish nose as well as her other more superior “traits.” As a person who was born and raised in the South Bay of Los Angeles in 1974, Licorice Pizza celebrates the craziness of growing up in an area where all possibilities were endless and bad behavior and cancerous personalities existed everywhere. Everything I loved about growing up in Los Angeles and hate is wonderfully reflected in this movie. The dirty suburbs and strip malls of my childhood are well-represented. Anderson’s ability to remember this era with such exquisite detail really brings back the nostalgia of a time and place not too far in the past that almost feels completely alien.
The movie has been subjected to some controversy. Like so many of these cynical takedowns of an era that no one under 40 seens to understand (Look at the age of this kid that wrote the article about being offended. He is an infant), the movie is actually an accurate portrayal of the 1970s right down to the oil embargo. This is the way that people acted in the 1970s. Is John Michael Higgins character a racist and using his Asian wives for his own personal benefit? Absolutely. But this is what people did in 1973. Did a casting agent focus on appearance and make multiple comments about Alana Kane’s nose? YUP. Looks were an important aspect of getting cast into films. When a young kid makes a comment about an era and a timeframe that he has no understanding of, should we really take this review or controversy seriously? Looking at something with 21st Century eyes does not give you a moral say or the experiences of people who actually lived during that era and experienced these exact same problems. If anything, PTA reflected them back with incredible accuracy.
There is nothing else for me to say. I am not sure if this movie is going to work with younger people. My daughter loved it, but she also has studied history and Los Angeles culture (Mainly because of her dad) more than most kids her age. Licorice Pizza is charming as hell and does a wonderful job reflecting an era through amazing vignettes that will keep you thinking about this film for days. Go see it when you get the chance. This is going to become a cult classic.
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