One of the best American filmmakers of his generation, the maestro Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice) shot another real film treat. A nostalgic and charming humorous drama set in Los Angeles ’San Fernando Valley in the early 1970s. I had the impression that Anderson with “Licorice Pizza” just for that name, perhaps the name itself suggests that it is much “sweeter” content than its standard) tried something like Tarantino with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, to take himself and the audience on a journey through place and time when everything was somehow differently and when everything seemed somehow achievable, possible. Of course, Anderson, like his colleague Tarantino, has no pretensions to change history, but “Licorice Pizza” is his optimistic, sunny vision of Los Angeles in the 1970s as it may or may not exist.
LICORICE PIZZA movie review, plot
The film focuses on the relationship of Gary Valentin (Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour Hoofman), a boy who will turn 16 in a few months and Alana Haim, a naive and somewhat childish young woman who is not yet clear what to do with life. They will meet immediately in the introductory scene when a confident and intelligent kid who seems extremely mature for his age, a real little emerging hustler (but a hustler who doesn’t have a gram of evil) starts talking to Alan who works as an assistant photographer for school photography. He tries to impress her with stories that he is an actor, and more to get rid of him she agrees to go to dinner with Gary. And it will be the start of an interesting relationship, more friendly at first, although it is clear that the ambitious Gary wants something more.
Very soon Gary will start switching from acting to some other businesses, first with water beds, later with pinball machines, and he really behaves as if he is much older than he really is. It is characterized by that typical American entrepreneurial flair, a clicker for business and for some new opportunities, and since this is a film, absolutely anything is possible. Thus, practically everyone treats him like an adult. He has his own table in a restaurant, somehow it seems to be perfectly normal for everyone to do business with a kid, and Anderson lets us know in some situations that Gary is actually still just a kid. Alana is also aware of this, the youngest of three sisters in a middle-class Jewish family, a girl with big dreams, gullible and naive who will fully understand who really wants the best for her and who is just trying to take advantage of her in various ways.
And we follow here their adventures in sunny California, conversations and walks as Anderson (who was also one of the cameramen) catches the “golden clock” and the light behind them. It’s a real visual treat and perfectly Anderson managed to conjure up California in the first half of the 1970s, but also a spirit that obviously reigned then and when everything seemed possible. Anyone who imagined that he would be an actor could become one, and wandering through the city, a man in Anderson’s vision could easily run into a star of that time. The plot of the film is less important here, but we follow Gary and Alan all the time as they start various businesses, flirt, quarrel, pretend they don’t care about the other, leave and come.
And Anderson has succeeded in making what may sound a little awkward at first, and that is the relationship between a 15-year-old and a 25-year-old, in the end not really act as something wrong, corrupt or sick because we can believe in their story. There is nothing vulgar about it and it will not be a classic romance from the beginning, it is more of a friendship, and it is very likely one of those first loves (at least for Gary) that one later remembers only through some fog. Although these were the first roles for both young Hoffman and Haim, Anderson hit it off perfectly because they both seem so natural. Unlike many of his previous films that rested on bravura acting performances, “Licorice Pizza” is a completely different film, and both Hoffman and Haim act somewhat spontaneously, like real people we might have met had we gotten there in the 1970s. Neither one nor the other are some beauties as we usually see in American movies, but they are both physically average, pimpled, with a hunchbacked nose, with teeth that go crooked, and that gives them some extra charm.
Unlike most of his previous films, which were usually quite dark, heavy, “Licorice Pizza” is actually a fluttering comedy, witty coming-of-age loaded with great episodic characters and often hilarious vignettes. Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper, Tom Waits, Bennie Safdie and many others appear briefly in the roles of characters who may not be so important for the story itself, but with which we get a deeper insight into what Los Angeles might have looked like. In addition, the episodes in which we meet their characters are also the most hilarious and entertaining parts of this masterful, beautiful film, Anderson’s best to me since “There Will Be Blood”, one of the top films of the 21st century.
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