Set in 1973, ‘Licorice Pizza’ pulls the viewers back to an era in a way that you’ll lose track of time. Directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson, the movie has an earnest honesty that makes it so entertaining, doesn’t matter if have no clue about life in 70s America.
Plot Overview – 15-year-old actor Gary Valentine falls in love at first sight with the much older Alana Kane while getting his school picture clicked. He asks her out on a date, and while Alana laughs it off, she ends up going to dinner with him. What follows is a long friendship, where Alana takes different roles for Gary – crush, chaperone, driver, friend, business-partner etc. The two try to run a business, dive deeper into showbiz and even dip their hands in politics – all of this leads them into meeting larger than life characters in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.
Paul Thomas Anderson has made a fun, breezy film that is sort of a Hollywood montage of different people doing different things and it all just collides with Gary and Alana’s world. ‘Licorice Pizza’ marks the feature film debut for both Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim, the lead pair, but they deliver flawless performances. As the film starts, viewers might be put off by the idea of a teen pursuing a much older woman, however this discomfort is blunted by the fact that Cooper exudes the confidence and demeanor of an adult (he was 17 or 18 at the time of filming). It’s not a sexually charged story about an age inappropriate ‘romance’ like Lolita, rather, it’s about two individuals going through the chaotic motions of life.
Now, this is a ensemble film, where a lot of older actors get meatier parts, while Alana-Gary just witness their madness. Sean Penn plays a megalomaniac 70s stars ready to please a crowd at the drop of a hat, Bradley Cooper has a hilarious cameo as hot-headed Jon Peters (who was dating Barbara Streisand at the time) who threatens kids, Christine Ebersole plays a Lucille Belle inspired character, Benny Safdie gets to be a closeted Joel Wachs running to be Mayor.
So a lot of the characters are inspired by real life people, Gary Valentine the protagonist is based on Gary Goetzman, a friend of the director. This is a nostalgic tribute to a lost era, shot on 35 mm film, with older lenses, to five the movie that retro touch. Funnily enough, the music didn’t stand out much, even though the makers use a large roster of tracks from the past throughout the runtime. But the whole 70s theme works really well and will make even those who were born much later feel a little nostalgic about a time when you had to run around the neighborhood to find your if you had something important to say, and not simply slide into their DMs on some app.
The climax felt abrupt, rushed, but ends on a typical happy manner for a ‘coming-of-age’ film, even though I had hoped the director would end it on a more unconventional note. It’s a 7/10 from me.
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