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USA 2021
Directed by
Paul Thomas Anderson
133 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Licorice Pizza

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza would make a tasty double bill with Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). Both are set in sun-drenched L.A. of the late 1960s and early ‘70s but whereas in Tarantino’s film the violent Zeitgeist-changing times are very much to the fore, in Anderson’s film such things lay beyond the horizon of its two youthful protagonists, Alana (Alana Haim) and Gary (Cooper Hoffman).

Formally, both films are brilliantly scripted by their directors, share top drawer production values, a raft of classic Top 40 songs of the era and above all, sparkling performances from their leads. Of such piece are the two films that one can easily imagine that the character of a “Long-haired Freak” who appears at the end of Licorice Pizza could well have been Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth from OUATIH.

Whilst Tarantino’s film is the showier of the two the suburban mundanity of Licorice Pizza draws playfully from the director’s own youth growing up in the San Fernando Valley and yields amusing narrative sidebars with out-there characters such as the real life Jon Peters (played with enthusiasm by Bradley Cooper) and the fictional Jack Holden (Sean Penn in form) who was based on the real life stunt motorcyclist Evil Knievel  and refers to actor William Holden (see IMDB for an explanation of this and other internal and external connections).

It is however the performances by Haim and Hoffman (son of the much-missed Philip Seymour Hoffman who was a close friend and long-time collaborator of Anderson),both making their screen debuts which are the film’s trump cards as, reminiscent of the early films of Truffaut and Godard, Anderson captures the exuberance of blossoming young love in long tracking shots of the pair running or quietly chatting on a moonlit stroll. The interplay between Haim and Hoffman, her Alana older, would-be tougher but less-sure of herself is ceaselessly charming as she gradually succumbs to the guileless optimism of Gary culminating in the feel-good ending of the year. 

Anderson has a superlative C.V. stretching back to his 1996 debut Hard Eight. Licorice Pizza is a standout addition to it.

FYI: The film’s title is also the name of a record store chain from that time, one of which can be seen in a classic ‘80s teen film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High    

If you’d like to see an also charming and very English take on the younger boy and older girl scenario check out Sing Street (2015).

Anderson has directed videos for Alana Haim and her two sisters (who also appear here along with their parents) as members of Haim, a Grammy-nominated pop-rock band. You can see them shakin’ it on Youtube.




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