I say it too often, but the trailer was one of the reasons I was so excited to see Licorice Pizza. It really is an art form to capture the tone of a film in under three minutes. Also I’m a fan of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s past work, especially Punch Drunk Love.
The film stars Cooper Hoffman as Gary Valentine, a fifteen year old child actor with a tunnel vision on success. It is obvious he is wise beyond his years, and his eagerness for winning at life has him constantly seeking out his next gig. He projects this confidence when he meets Alana, (Alana Haim), working as a photography assistant in his high school. Quick to put him in his place, she claims her age makes any further relationship non-negotiable. She’s quite mean about it really, and it’s surprising that he continues to engage her.
The plot is kind of sparse. We get endearing shots that show Gary’s ability to make the best of where he is. Juxtaposed with this is Alana attempting to define her purpose (through a series of crushes) and get out of where she is. The inevitability of their relationship is a constant pull. There are those who are hung up on the age difference – but I didn’t remember it. Definitely no Mrs. Robinson vibes.
There are visits from well-known actors that help further define Gary and Alana’s relationship. Bradley Cooper offers a great character role, shining light on Gary’s ego and Alana’s fight or flight response during the oil crisis. Sean Penn plays a part as famous actor providing a portrait of jealousy. John Michael Higgins steps in as a racist restauranteur, which has a lot of people upset in the online comments. But the character is clearly an asshole-we’re not supposed to like him, and Gary doesn’t either.
Licorice Pizza is a nostalgic coming of age story that recalls intimate experiences that push us forward. Anderson highlights the touchstone moments, the imperfect little things that send us on a certain path. Memories swimming around us waiting to surface when we hear a certain song or catch a familiar aroma. There is an appropriate affection for those places and the times where we came from.
Fun fact: Licorice Pizza is the name of a vinyl record store that first launched in Long Beach, CA and grew to over thirty locations.