TL;DR – One of the funniest and engaging films I have seen this year, but also an experience that made me deeply uncomfortable in places.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I was invited to a press screening of this film
Licorice Pizza Review –
There have been several films I have watched this year, but I don’t think any of them left such a complicated feeling with me as I left the cinema. This was a film that was a roller coaster that you strapped into at the start, and it never let you go. But it was an old roller coaster, so some sections rattle a bit more than they should (for my Brisbane fam, image the Thunderbolt towards the end of its life).
So to set the scene, we open in San Fernando Valley on a school picture day. Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is with his friends as they prime themselves to get the best picture, while Alana Kane (Alana Haim) is working with the photo company. When Gary and Alana first meet, there is an instant connection even though they come from different worlds. Well, those worlds now collide all across 1973, Los Angeles.
This film was a ride, in that you never know what is going to come next. In the opening, you first experience it when Alana rips some school kids apart with a perfect cutting line of dialogue. It comes out of nowhere and lets you know that you must always be on your toes with this film. But for all the haphazard nature that permeated the film, it is also full of sweet charm. This creates a juxtaposition that could have led to tonal dissonance if there was not a lot of care added to this film. It also works because both Gary and Alana are perfectly cast, allowing their dichotomy to triumph.
Narratively speaking, this film is almost a collection of independent vignettes but connected together with the same cast of characters. So you will jump from Gary being a child actor to everyone selling water beds across the county to a fuel crisis that everyone has to deal with and more. It is both jarring and yet also flows, which is an odd feeling. What helps is that there is a lot of stunt casting throughout this film where actors show up in one of the vignettes and chew the scenery with gusto. This stunt casting arrives just at the right moments to shake up the film and the core relationship when it is needed.
One of the themes the film engages in is nostalgia for the past that is both idolised, yet you can see that reverence fraying around the edges. You can feel an almost autobiographical pull with Licorice Pizza as it weaves real-life events and characters clearly based on real people into its fictional narrative. You can feel this pull throughout the runtime, like when Gary hopped on the water bed, and I got sent back in time to my childhood. They also use the timeframe creatively, like an excuse to have Alana reverse a truck down a hill with only gravity to help. If you actually grew up in the Valley, the effect would be even more profound.
However, while there was a lot about this film I thoroughly enjoyed, a lot made me deeply uncomfortable. The age range between the two leads is just a bit too much, and the two leads’ charisma sort of makes you forget that, leading to multiple oomph moments throughout the film. As well as this, the film might be set in 1973, but this is 2021 and having two Asian characters in the movie that only exist so one of the white characters can do a racist stereotype of their accent is just profoundly gross.
In the end, do we recommend Licorice Pizza? Well, as a food product, absolutely not. But as a film, well… Look, as a filmmaker, Paul Thomas Anderson creates particular movies with a precise tone. If that tone is your brand, you will have a great time with this film. However, if you don’t click with the film, well, this will be a slog to get through. If you liked Licorice Pizza, I would also recommend to you Phantom Thread. \
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Licorice Pizza
Directed by – Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by – Paul Thomas Anderson
Music by – Jonny Greenwood
Cinematography by – Paul Thomas Anderson & Michael Bauman
Edited by – Andy Jurgensen
Production/Distribution Companies – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Focus Features, Bron Creative, Ghoulardi Film Company, United Artists Releasing & Universal Pictures
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, George DiCaprio, Ray Chase, Emma Dumont, Maya Rudolph, John C. Reilly, Dan Chariton, Moti Haim, Donna Haim, Este Haim, Danielle Haim, Yumi Mizui, Megumi Anjo & Ryan Heffington
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; Germany: na; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: na; United States: R