Age is one of those strange factors when it comes to relationships.
My Dad was 35 when he married my Mom, who was 10 years his junior. Aaron and Sam Taylor-Johnson have a 23 year age difference between each other and they’re doing fine (I hope). Florence Pugh and Zach Braff have a 21 year difference. Anna Nicole Smith was about 27 when she married a near 90 year old J. Howard Marshall. If your mind is totally shutting down on you on the age differences, I’d tell you that maybe Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza may not be for you, but to still give it a chance. The story is so well written that you’ll often forget there any kind of age differences. If that’s not a problem, the movie is more than worth your time.
A Licorice Pizza is another word for a vinyl album. Although I grew up with records (Purple Rain and Jaws were on constant rotation as a kid), I can’t say I’ve ever heard the term before.
Licorice Pizza is a love story at heart, between 15 year old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, an Anderson regular) and 25 year old Alana Kane (Alana Haim, of the band Haim) set in the early 1970s. Gary’s young, but is both very curious and confident, actively looking for the next opportunity ahead of him (even if he has to create it). Alana’s successful at what she does, is resourceful in her own right and doesn’t hesitate to call someone out on their crap.
I caught Licorice Pizza on the Friday after Thankgsiving at the Village East by Angelika just below 14th Street in Manhattan. which hosts one of the best 70 MM screens in the borough. This was the same theatre I attended for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master in 70MM. The place is absolutely beautiful and reminds me of the old Ziegfeld. Think of 70MM as what IMAX was before IMAX ever existed.
By far, Licorice Pizza‘s greatest strengths are the plot and cast. For Hoffman and Haim, these are their first acting performances, but they flow so well in every scene (with Haim the stronger of the two) that it feels completely natural. Hoffman is energetic and smooth, and I hope to see him do more in the future. Haim is a marvel, and if she doesn’t end up with some kind of award for all this, I’d be very shocked. She dances with all of these actors as if she’s done it for years, and in the rare instance where there’s a hiccup – there’s a moment regarding the character’s age – the recovery’s so quick that you have to wonder if that was scripted or not. It reminds me of Michael Mann’s Miami Vice, in that being undercover is basically taking on a persona and throwing yourself fully into it to make it believable. Both leads are the heart of all this.
Of course, it helps to have backup to support the leads. Alana Kane’s family is also Alana Haim’s. Her sisters, Danielle and Este, along with their parents are all on hand here. The film is also peppered with stars like Tom Waits (Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Sean Penn playing a variant on Bill Holden(Milk), Christine Ebersole (The Wolf of Wall Street), Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems) and Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids, and she’s Anderson’s wife) that help to round out the weirdness of Los Angeles in the 1970s. Of particular note are both George DiCaprio (Father of Leonardo) as a waterbed salesman, and Bradley Cooper as legendary producer Jon Peters (who was responsible for Batman, A Star is Born and Man of Steel). Of all of the supporting cast, Cooper has by far the most positive and zany appearance, with his version of Peters feeling more like a live action Rocket Raccoon. His character here is almost the opposite of the one he plays in Nightmare Alley. I also loved Benny Safdie’s politician here. Each supporting character has a story of their own that Alana & Gary are pulled into.
And then there’s John Michael Higgins, who plays a restaurant owner who makes fun of his Japanese wife’s ability to speak English. He talks to her in a made up broken version of Japanese, which my audience seemed to be okay with. They laughed, mostly. It’s like the Christmas Story Chinese Food scene, where the family has to listen to a broken version of “Deck the Halls”. Depending on who you are, it may come across as cringeworthy, and is honestly the only thing that stumble steps the movie in any way. Then again, one could argue that it’s just the 70s. Things were different. Anyone recollecting what life was life back then is bound to have a relative or someone just like that.
All that aside, I loved the flow of the movie. Between The Master and Inherent Vice, I half expected Licorice Pizza to take some dark turns. While the movie does get a little strange where the effects of the gas shortage plays in (also one of the best scenes), the film is incredibly lighthearted and fun. Like every romantic comedy, you have all of the great elements. Gary pursues Alana, but her attentions are turned towards another. By the time Alana starts to realize that maybe Gary is good for her, he’s kind of moved on. You may find yourself hoping everything works out – it’s hard not to love these characters. All of this is done with a soundtrack from the era that rivals some of the best offerings from Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood or Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy. A little Bowie, some Nina Simone, some Paul McCartney and Wings & even Donovan pepper the film. For the score, Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood is back once again as Anderson’s go-to composer.
Overall, Licorice Pizza is a surprisingly lighthearted tale from Paul T. Anderson. It never overreaches or spends too much time in any one place, understanding that love is a complex thing. Grounded by two talented newcomers, a plethora of supporting heavies, a wonderful soundtrack and a screenplay that’ll make you smile, Licorice Pizza is an easy recommendation.