Thursday, December 23, 2021

Licorice Pizza - Review


Few directors over the last twenty-five years have turned in the number of masterful pieces of cinema that Paul Thomas Anderson has. He’s been considered a great for some time now, only solidifying that case with each new release. The director’s newest adds another instant classic to the list, a 1970s period piece that feels wholly authentic, completely genuine and the kind of film you just can’t wait to see again.

The film follows a sort of interwoven narrative around the lives of Alana and Gary, played by newcomers Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, son of Anderson vet Philip Seymour Hoffman. Set against a sun-drenched Los Angeles backdrop, the two share a clear connection, a bond that shifts and grows across numerous hustles from the mind of the 15 year old Gary, and more than a few run ins with real life Hollywood stars. 

As Alana and Gary drift in and out of each others stories, Anderson makes sure to conjure up an assortment of fantastical scenarios. From a dinner gone awry at Alana’s home, to a run in with Bradley Cooper’s insane, narcissistic portrayal of producer Jon Peters, to the many business ventures of Gary throughout this unspecified amount of time. The whole film comes off as a wonderful slice of 1970s LA, and a ride that’s incredibly fun to go on.

Whether Anderson is working with heralded veterans or new to the screen actors, he manages to get the very best out of everyone. As mentioned before, Bradley Cooper appears here in an extended cameo, but he steals every scene he gets. Sean Penn also pops up as an aging movie star, reliving the glory days and dating women far younger than him without even bothering to remember their names.

And while these brief appearances by seasoned actors are great, the true shining moments come from the new kids on the block. It really should come as no surprise that Cooper Hoffman has it. As the confident and charismatic Gary Valentine, Hoffman exudes an energy that’s hard to put into words, but it feels like everyone has known some version of this character in their own lives. And then there’s Alana Haim. The musician turned actress appears to have been performing on screen all her life with the absolute ease with which she breathes life and personality into her character. She’s incredibly likable and the charm and chemistry of the pair together is absolutely magnetic. 

The whole thing just pulls you in and doesn’t let you go. Paul Thomas Anderson is a master at what he does, and with Licorice Pizza, he’s at the top of his game. There are numerous moments here that feel as though we’re there with the characters. You can almost the smell the smoke, feel the summer heat, and see everything that this world has to offer from just this small glimpse into their lives. 

It’s a near perfect film, and Anderson’s lightest work to date. The carefree nature of its narrative never detracts from the care and craft that Anderson puts in. His affection for these characters shines through, and makes us care about them and their young love all the same. The ways that Licorice Pizza captures its subjects and showcases the frenzied feelings of teenage love and its ups and downs is remarkable work, and makes it one of the year’s best. 

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