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Licorice Pizza Review

Paul Thomas Anderson once again returns to the San Fernando Valley with his latest offering Licorice Pizza and he lovingly recreates the 1970s in a way very much akin to Quentin Tarantino’s recreation of Hollywood in the 60s in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

The film tells the story of 25-year-old Alana Kane, played by Alana Haim in her first film role, and Gary Valentine (Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s son Cooper Hoffman) as we watch the two run around the San Fernando Valley together for a little more than two hours. Alana is working as an assistant to a photographer when she meets Gary at his high school on picture day and he immediately grabs her attention by talking of his work as a child actor. 

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The two begin to connect, forming a heartfelt connection and what follows over the rest of the film’s runtime are a series of epiphanies that Gary and Alana experience. Sometimes they’re together for these, and sometimes they’re alone, but we get a collection of snippets and encounters that help connect the two together and make up the formative years of both of their lives. They have encounters with all types of people – from famous actors to Hollywood producers and local politicians – allowing for a range of familiar faces such as Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper and Benny Safdie to weave their way into the film, if only briefly.

In result, there are times when the film feels aimless as the plot dissipates and it meanders its way through the second half. You can’t be quite certain if this is Anderson’s way of presenting the aimlessness of adolescence and the senselessness of our teenage years, or if he’s just overindulging for the sake of it and getting lost within his own film. And whilst the film just about concludes in time, there are moments towards the end of its two hour and twelve minute runtime where it begins to outstay its welcome, although it’s not much longer before Anderson starts wrapping things up. Certain moments could possibly have been cut as there are other scenes at other times in the film that serve a very similar – if not exactly – same purpose and Anderson does perhaps overindulge himself in the film at times.

However, because of the director’s loving craftsmanship and the way he delicately creates such a delightful atmosphere, Licorice Pizza ends up as a thoroughly entertaining coming-of-age film. It’s remarkable that this is the first film for both Hoffman and Haim, as the two give outstanding performances and have such great chemistry together whenever they are on screen. 

Licorice Pizza has all the important coming-of-age film beats including the thrill of first love and entering adulthood and Anderson puts us right there in 1973 with Gary and Alana in the San Fernando Valley. Whether that’s through the luscious cinematography and gorgeous production design, or the fantastic soundtrack featuring music from David Bowie and Bing Crosby amongst many others, Gary and Alana’s journey together feels so sweet and joyous. 

Despite the age gap between Gary and Alana, this never feels like an issue whilst watching Licorice Pizza, as there’s never anything predatory going on and there’s no grooming because at its centre, it’s a film about friendship and that’s exactly the bond that these two characters have. Anderson clearly didn’t want to tell a story about two teenagers, he wanted to tell a story that’s slightly messier as that’s life. Life is never straightforward and it is messy and the age gap between the two protagonists help make the film feel that bit more real without it ever feeling weird or creepy.

Verdict

Paul Thomas Anderson lovingly and joyously places us right at the centre of the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s with Licorice Pizza, in this funny and delightfully heartfelt coming-of-age story. Anchored by fantastic performances and stunning filmmaking, leaving you desperate for another slice.