Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Featuring: Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, John Michael Higgins, Skylar Gisondo, Benny Safdie, Nate Mann
Gary Valentine is a child actor and school-age hustler, he is noticeably confident. It is this confidence that sees him try to date a school photography assistant ten years his senior Alana Kane. Curious she goes on a date with the older than his years Gary and so begins a long journey of love and friendship between them as they take on trying to get acting gigs, selling waterbeds, the oil embargo in 70s California, and all points in between.
The western world as we call it and in particular the USA and the UK are currently in the middle of a mawkish, naval gazing, nostalgia-fest. It is therefore completely understandable that art and in particular storytellers on the screen, both big and small, reflect this.
This time we step back into the seventies with distinctive and talented director Paul Thomas Anderson much in the same vein as Tarantino but without the dark and unpleasant streak that runs through his work. Anderson here has a lighter touch with a sense of fun and verve that only comes with the young who are not really sure about themselves or their direction in life.
Apparently drawing on the real-life stories of producer and sometime actor Gary Goetzman it is immediately striking that in general Anderson’s two main protagonists Gary and Alana are more confident and purposeful than many young lover types in this genre of films. It makes a refreshing change as, the spookily like his dad the much-missed Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cooper Hoffman, takes to the role convincingly in his big screen debut. Cheeky, full of confidence, and some swagger, this type of young character could be tremendously annoying in the wrong hands, in writing, directing and acting, but to everyone’s credit he is as likable as he is daft. No one is frightened of showing his jealousy and anger, not great characteristics in anyone, but to my mind it balances him out as a normal if a little pushy human being.
Likewise, Alana, played by Alana Haim, apparently, a successful pop musician with her sisters, is sketched out as a confident strong young woman who still shows weaknesses in her character by having her head turned by smarmy actors or getting unreasonably jealous of someone who ‘isn’t her boyfriend’ but this never diminishes her character. You feel, or indeed know, by the film’s conclusion she will be okay.
Populate your film with accomplished actors in cameos, such as standouts Sean Penn as Jack ‘not William’ Holden and Tom Waits as Rex ‘not John Huston’ Blau and you have typical PTA fare.
The seventies are recreated in both the presentation and the looks in set design and clothing, as someone from that ear, albeit in the UK I admit, I would say that the folk involved in this should take a bow. Never once did I think – this is them pretending, it was the 1970s for me.
I never read other people’s reviews of films I have just watched until I have at least watched the film, and often after I have written my piece, but in this case, I did read some almost immediately after viewing. Why? Because I just knew most people would say ‘it doesn’t do anything’ or ‘there’s no story’ and on the whole I was completely correct.
For me that is the entire point, it is the film’s strong point. No one in this film, looks or behaves like an actor playing a role, looks perfect or has great hair, except the people playing film stars. To me the whole Rom Com conceit is laid low here, it is never easy or even fully clear cut and there is no story, just hundreds of little ones that add up and make your life. You can stop anywhere you want, your viewing stops, and the story goes on. Perfect for me.
The age difference between Hoffman’s and Hiam’s characters could be problematical if you are looking for something to really pick at, he being fifteen and Alana 25 and if it were reversed, a 15-year-old girl and a 25-year-old man – yikes, but Alana does question it, try to change and move away and at no point is it creepy. My wife is 12 years older than me but it has to be said we did not meet when I was at school.
Overall Licorice Pizza is a slice out of two people’s lives in their formative years. Neither cynical nor lyrical it sits in just the right place for me. I can see why some would baulk at the ‘romance’ between the two characters and the lack of narrative drive but the overall film pushes these concerns to the back for me.
It is entertaining fun.