As far as Paul Thomas Anderson films go, his 8th feature film Licorice Pizza feels like the most PTA-esque film yet. It’s a complicated love story set in 1973, shot on 35 mm film, using older cameras and colour palettes that bring a vintage, 1970s texture that is pretty beautiful to look at. With no real linear plot and some unusual and striking moments, it’s a film that requires patience, but it’s a worthy watch, not only for this vintage aesthetic and vibrant colours, but for its pretty phenomenal all-round performances and exceptional soundtrack.
As far as the story goes (some spoilers ahead!), it’s considered a coming-of-age love story between a 15-year-old boy named Gary Valentine, portrayed by Cooper Hoffman in his film acting debut, (the son of the late, legendary Philip Seymour Hoffman) and 25-year old Alana Kane, portrayed by Alana Haim in her acting debut. Resistant at first due to the pretty big age difference between both characters, Alana slowly starts warming to Gary, who is a charming and adventurous kid, always looking for a new business opportunity or venture. His growth in character, especially in the eyes of Alana is pretty great to see, and their chemistry together is what makes this film so captivating to watch. The cast as a whole is also pretty great, with the likes of Maya Rudolph, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, George DiCaprio (Leo’s dad), and the Haim family, including her parents all involved. I would have liked to see more minority representation in the film, but as a whole the cast was very PTA-esque and everyone did their thing.
One criticism I have is some of the racist, anti-Asian humour that appeared at times throughout the film. I get that it’s a satirical comedy that portrays some people’s bigoted views back in the 70s, but the hyperbolic impressions of Japanese people was quite distasteful and just unfunny to me, despite a lot of white folks in the cinema laughing at those moments. He could have done a better job satirizing Asian stereotypes if he really wanted to include that in the film, but it was pretty low-level comedy that just didn’t do it for me at all. Despite this, it was humorous at times, showing the vulnerabilities of both protagonists, trying to mature and grow up in their own ways. There is a sweet innocence to Gary and Alana’s relationship, and both characters gradually uncover and learn more about each other and themselves, a beautiful coming of age story that evokes a real sense of nostalgia and shows a vulnerability in the characters, all of whom are seeking validation and a need to be loved and heard, in one way or another.
Licorice Pizza is a pretty good film, and one I would recommend to any open-minded film fans.