Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Alaina Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Skyler Gisondo, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Bradley Cooper, Tom Waits, and Sean Penn
Runtime: 133 minutes
I walked into Licorice Pizza expecting to walk out with a warm feeling of nostalgia for that decade that was the greatest of all decades, the 1970’s. Yes, the warm fuzzy 70’s feeling was there as I headed for the exit, but there was a bit of disappointment too because the film could have been so much more.
If you’re interested in any of the mentioned titles or links, simply click to get access through Amazon.
One thing that wasn’t a disappointment was Alana Haim’s character, Alana Kane. She was adorable, fiery and so utterly charismatic, every time she was in a scene, everyone else in the scene instantly became background props. Even in one scene with Sean Penn (playing a lecherous version of William Holden), Penn looks like an amateur chewing the scenery. I’m not sure if Paul Thomas Anderson cast Alana in the role because he recognized her talent, or whether it was just stunt casting, but it paid off like the triple jackpot at a high-roller casino.
Cooper Hoffman was also good as Gary, but the way his character was written, he came off as a sleazy kid, always looking for the next hustle and deal. In one scene, Gary (a child actor) is on stage with an actress named Lucy (obviously meant to be Lucille Ball) and during a mock pillow fight, he hits her in the back of the head with all his strength, nearly knocking her down. It’s never explained why he did that, and Lucy’s rage at him, though meant to make her look bad, to me looked justified. It’s little things like this that made me dislike Gary, he was like a far less charismatic version of Jason Schwartzman’s character from “Rushmore“.
Bradley Cooper gives a hilariously over-the-top performance as Jon Peters, portraying the real-life Producer and (at that time) boyfriend of Barbara Streisand. Bradley makes Jon Peters look like a raging maniac. His scenes are simultaneously funny and stressful because you don’t know what insane violent thing he might do next.
The film itself is made up of vignettes, as Gary attempts to start one hustle and business after another, as Alana comes in and out of his life, at times helping him in his pursuits, and at other times ignoring him to follow her own destiny.
As the film moves between these vignettes, it’s hard to tell how much time has passed between them. It would have been much better had the film taken place over a specific time period, like the Summer of 1973. But some of the vignettes and the people Gary and Alana encounter (like the aforementioned Jon Peters) are entertaining and a joy to watch.
The cinematography throughout Licorice Pizza is glorious, and really captures what it must have felt like in the San Fernando Valley in the early ’70s. Blue sunlit skies dotted with puffy clouds hang over diners and pinball arcades, and the streets are filled with classic cars, roller skaters, and neon-lit dive bars. One movie theater in the center of the Valley, where a critical scene occurs, beams “Live and Let Die” on its marquee, casting a shadow over the block, and as I sat there watching the movie, I imagined being in that theater, where after the movie ended, I could walk out into the Valley night to have endless adventures.
If you’re a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, this is in the top tier of his body of work, and I recommend seeing it. Go see it for the craft on screen, or if you just want another great nostalgic trip through the past.