Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring – Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn
The Plot – The story of Alana Kane (Haim) and Gary Valentine (Hoffman) growing up, running around and falling in love in the San Fernando Valley, during the summer of 1973.
Rated R for adult language, sexual material and some drug use.
– Passionate direction. This is the fifth straight period piece for Anderson, whose evocative detailing of the sights and sounds of the flower power generation that inspired a great amount of his prestigious career. In the case of “Licorice Pizza”, it’s the same auteur familiarity that we expect from the visionary director, but with all of the emotions and experiences from adolescence that resonate a deeper sense of fondness and appreciation that certainly cements the most sentimental of Anderson experiences. On top of this, the ensuing social commentary within a world on the brink of financial disaster prescribes universal stakes and consequences inside of this very nuanced and personal story, receiving periodic instances of mention, but without it ever feeling like a crutch of necessity for the depths of the narrative, nor taking away from the focus and tenacity of Paul’s intimately compelling storytelling, which feels as coherently fleshed out as any first person perspective can properly convey.
– Transformative quality. There’s this seamlessness to the defined place and age of the film’s setting that is materialized as a result of more than one precise layer of pivotal production used to vibrantly bring the San Fernando Valley during the summer of 1973 back to life for the audience amazement. From the vintage threads of the film’s wardrobe designs, to the colorful contrast of various sets and decoration, everything here breeds a perfect level of believability that is made all the more impressive by the expansion of its reach, without ever offering a single solitary moment where something inconsistent stood out to surrender my growing investment. Beyond this, the instrumental stirring of a faded color correction with a sunbaked consistency in Anderson’s own cinematography grades the movie’s imagery in a glow of classic luster, made all the more intoxicating with the 35mm Kodak film that Anderson surmises from the dead of outdated technology. Finally, iconic composer, and longtime Anderson collaborator, Jonny Greenwood, once again conjures up a mesmerizing score that not only channels the essence of surfer rock on the cusp of a revolutionary takeover, but also constructs tones and instrumentals that feel so distinctly unlike anything else in the entirety of his musician-turned-composer career, playing into the magnitude of his creative capabilities and environmental impulses.
– Compelling dynamic. At the heart of the movie’s noticeable gains, is the relationship between Alana and Gary, with all of the complexities and banter that you can expect from two completely different people. The intriguing aspect here is that while they are different people at different positions of life, it’s the similarities they share in a dual coming-of-age story that is most endearing to the experience, valuing each of them as the keys to the others’ evolutional maturity that balances out what each of them needs. For an immature Gary, Alana is very much the first girl he’s ever felt legitimate feelings for, so it teaches him to embrace and value that love with the kind of determination his life has been lacking to that point. For Alana, Gary is the motivational steering that her life’s early adulthood has always needed, but rarely found, inspiring her to seek out the necessary ambition within herself that puts words to actions as a result. The film is its strongest when each of them shares the screen with one another, and the timing and spontaneity of their banter articulates an effortless chemistry that transcends their years, and cements them as the kindred spirits that fill the void to needs that neither of them knew they needed in the first place.
– Naturalistic dialogue. While staying on those crafted lines for just a minute longer, Anderson instills as much uniqueness and expression to the deliveries that magnetically entranced me to every word, all the while attaining a sincerity for their impacts that occasionally makes these interactions feel like documentary footage, instead of crafted fiction from beyond the lens. Because of such, the conversations are so enriched with momentous consistency and unapologetic honesty that solidify all of the colossal stakes in everything they could and often do say, making much of this dialogue-driven film a delightful pleasure to endure for just over the two hour mark. In particular, there’s much to study and interpret between Alana and Gary’s ever-changing demeanors that solidifies the lines between them as insightful delves into their often guarded psyche’s, serving as the audible windows to the soul’s that we can properly define as experienced third parties who track more than a familiar trail to where their relationship takes us.
– Slice of life. Where the film finds its momentum for me, but ironically enough will serve as a testament of wills for others, is in the spontaneity of its storytelling, which often eludes structure for the many high’s and low’s that come from living. As to where one could argue that this film feels aimless or weightless at times, I could argue that Anderson properly captures the essence of unrequited love, especially the turbulent lengths that it will take a youth down when they become in over their head. Because this film continuously throws scenes together in such a manner that never stitches any two of them together, it properly attains a merit of unpredictability that goes a long way in testing the limits of a comedy-first narrative, bringing with it a self-deprecating sense of humility that proves Anderson isn’t afraid to get the hands of his dual protagonists dirty, all the while echoing life’s many sporadic beats that persist with little to no warning.
– Tonal deviation. In my opinion, “Licorice Pizza” will go down in history as not only the most endearing Paul Thomas Anderson film of all time, but also the most rewatchable. This prophetic claim stems from an easy-going humorous consistency that Anderson has until now only grazed with his films, but here wholeheartedly commits to in a way that attains a light-hearted merit to the often crazy experience of the protagonists. What’s most surprising, however, is that all of this persists with Anderson’s typical eerieness looming in the background, where any reaction to an incident can pop-off at any given time, and unpredictability can play its hand in ways that fools the audience from the false sense of security that the levity entailed. It matches energy with stakes in a way that very few films can even attempt, creating a realistic sense of consequences for these shallow actions that the youthful characters unload, all the while without taking away from effectiveness in gags that resonated repeatedly within me.
– Sharp casting. Credit to Anderson for crafting Haim and Hoffman, two gravitational defining talents who have never acted in a feature length film, despite both being involved the Hollywood eye of entertainment. This subscribes further to the authenticity that Anderson cements in the film’s aforementioned production aspects because neither’s familiarity allows the focus to remain where it rightfully should be; the story, and its one that each of them serve dutifully throughout. For Hoffman, his turn as Gary very much elicits a showman full of earnestness and organic charisma that continuously captivates the screen, bringing with it the same kind of endearing presence that made his father one of the best before his untimely passing. As for Alana Haim, her turn as the appropriately named Alana is a justifiable one, as much of the balance that surrounds her music in the rock band “Haim”, which she shares with her sisters, is present here. Haim injects a balance of fearlessness and naivety that often envelopes the character in a cloud of ambiguity, but never one that Alana herself lets slip away in a performance full of so much durability and angst constructed from this one woman army who continuously levels everything in her path. There’s also some strong cameo turns from Sean Penn, Benny Safdie, Tom Waits, and especially the scene-stealing work of Bradley Cooper, who hands in the most maniacally supercharged turn of his entire career.
– Morally ambiguous. It’s a shame that this near perfect film is marred by some questionable choices in material that constantly took away from my investment. To be fair, the instances themselves involving a Japanese depiction through the portrayal of a white man, and the framing of a 25 year old woman being romantically involved in a 15 year old boy, were very much a relevant aspect of society for the time, but not necessarily one that adds a necessary quality when watched with contemporary eyes. For my money, the age of Gary could’ve easily been changed to 17. This would’ve allowed him to maintain much of the immaturity and distance in age from Alana that the film surrounds, while also attaining credibility in legalities that I wish it surrounded itself in. The Japanese stuff is completely unnecessary, and while it’s an aspect of the arc of Gary’s on-screen father (Played by John Michael Higgins), the impression itself, especially when repeated, could be left on the cutting room floor of ineffective humor that feels more culturally insensitive than cleverly entertaining.
My Grade: 9/10 or A-