December 2, 2021

CINEMA | Paul Thomas Anderson Daydreams 'Licorice Pizza'

"My only problem in life is that I love tail too much."
Alana Haim Sean Penn Paul Thomas Anderson | Licorice Pizza
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / Universal Pictures
Celebrated auteur Paul Thomas Anderson returns to his more joyful sense of Southern Californian ensemble fare for the 1973 San Fernando Valley set coming-of-age, shaggy teenage comedy, Licorice Pizza—imagine Boogie Nights sans any cocaine or pornography. Titled after the Los Angeles record store chain from the time period, we amusingly follow the very entertaining suburban hijinx of two luminous but ordinary young characters.

Starring the youngest Haim sister/band member Alana Haim (her siblings and parents appear frequently as her on-screen family) of the eponymous pop rock trio and Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), both in their screen debut, as a fifteen-year-old fading child actor turned hustler and the young adult object of his affection, Anderson's 1970s power ballad of a film is such a joyously romantic affair.

Not unlike Once Upon A Time in… Hollywood, but much more innocent, it's just so fun to hangout with these characters in a very specific time and place before our modern troubles consumed us. Random happenings and run-ins made up of extended vignettes ease us into the misadventures of Hoffman's Gary Valentine overcoming his former child star status. It's a fearlessly confident portrayal of youth and small-time adventure.

Bradley Cooper Cooper Hoffman Alana Haim | Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza

Haim is simply wondrous as a tempestuous 25-year-old caught up in the antics of a charming teenager and his schemes. There's nary a false note to her performance as both a confident yet vulnerable young woman looking for direction. Licorice Pizza perfectly captures what it feels like to be both young and dumb. It's a cinematic expression of that feeling of romantic interest and intensity over a short but significant stretch of time that feels like forever but is more like a long summer.

Haim and Hoffman own the screen aided by scenes and extended cameos from heavy hitters like Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper, and Benny Safdie as side character versions of real-life Hollywood figures in a shaggy story of friendship and scheming. Everyone is so earnestly goofy as Anderson mixes the humorous but adult tones of his previous films through a youthfully vibrant point-of-view

Licorice Pizza is an absolute delight with such fun performances from its cast. Anderson crafts a wistfully hopeful daydream of another bygone time and place. How the film romances its characters stumbling through life and random situations make the viewer long for a seemingly more innocent or simpler time. Our ordinary yet extraordinary leads sparkle with such natural charisma throughout.

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