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Film Review: Licorice Pizza

Director:    Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast:    Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim, Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper, Tom Waits, Benny Safdie, Joseph Cross, Danielle Haim, Este Haim

Rating:    M

Running Time:    133

Australian Distributor:     Universal Pictures Australia

I have always been a big sucker for a good coming of age story. Whether it be one with a difference like Acolytes or one that is a little more traditional like Almost Famous I always find them intriguing to watch because I feel that it is the one genre that every filmmaker can put a little bit of themselves into… after all we were all teenagers once.

It was because of that intrigue that my interest was sparked when I discovered that director Paul Thomas Anderson was making a coming-of-age film. Anderson has been a director that I have felt drawn to ever since I obtained a VHS copy of Boogie Nights. He has a style of filmmaking that fascinates me – a style that reminds me of the reason why I fell in love with cinema in the first place. He doesn’t go for over the top action or set pieces instead he likes to capture the environment in which the film is set and tell a good story while he has his audience immersed within it.

His latest film, Licorice Pizza, puts his audience in a time machine and takes them back to the early 70s to a time when kids had the freedom to dream without the pressures of social media and the likes that we endure today.   

Anderson’s hero is Gary (first time actor  Cooper Hoffmana teenager who has made a career for himself as a child actor. From the money he has earned from that he has set up a small business which sees him sell whatever fad is in fashion at that time… or do anything that he sees will make him money.

Then when day at his school he meets school photography assistant Alana (first time actress Alana Haim), a woman that he says he instantly knows is the woman that he wants to marry one day.

However being older than Gary, Alana decides that she is not as eager for a relationship as he is and instead seems to take pleasure stringing him along as she tries to enhance her own career in a number of ways including getting close to a crazy actor and his film directing buddy and then even delving into politics in the hope of getting closer to the political candidate.

Meanwhile Gary goes from scheme to scheme doing whatever he can to try and get Alana involved so she can be close to him.

I can be honest and say that this is not the kind of film that the average pop-corn film fan is going to enjoy, Anderson’s films rarely are. Instead I found what he has created here is a film that seems to take on the feel of the TV show The Wonder Years but mix it with the quirkiness that seems to come with Anderson’s films.

One of the thrills that I found with this film is the fact that with Anderson’s style of filmmaking you never really know what to expect next. One moment the characters are going along their merry way and the next one is being arrested. With that sense of unpredictability you can’t but at times wonder if the characters that you are being drawn closer to, especially when it seems like Alana is playing a dangerous game of flirtation with the likes of the crazy Jack Holden (Sean Penn) who are unpredictable at best. 

Likewise as an audience you find yourself wondering whether these guys that Alana is drawing into her life and going to one day have a problem with Gary. The suspense around things like that at times seems to outweigh the suspense around whether or not Gary or Alana will eventually get together or not.

Then there are the quirky characters that appear throughout this film that not only make the story move along but often bring a smile to your face as well. The king of that here is Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper), an unhinged actor who comes into Alana and Gary’s world when they deliver a waterbed to his home. Every minute that Cooper is on the screen is a scream and he steals the show with a brilliant performance.

That is not to take anything from the two leads that Anderson has plucked from acting obscurity. Cooper Hoffman, the son of late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, has the same commanding performance that his father had while singer turned actress Alana Haim is a natural performer. Both of which may have been unheard of before this film but they certainly won’t be after its release.

Licorice Pizza is the kind of film for people that like a serious film with slight pieces of quirky humour throughout. It is the kind of film where you find yourself being drawn closer and closer to the characters on the screen despite the fact that sometimes their actions frustrate you. This is one for the true cinephile.



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