Licorice Pizza (2021)
Licorice Pizza (2021)

Genre: Comedy and Romantic Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 13 min.

Release Date: December 25th, 2021 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson Actors: Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, John Michael Higgins, Skyler Gisondo, Maya Rudolph, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie

 


 

“I

‘m not going on a date with you, kid.” 15-year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) pressures 25-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim) to go to dinner with him, but she does her best to appear disinterested. Nevertheless, Gary is persistent, certain that Alana is the girl he will one day marry; for him, it’s love at first sight. And with his consistently funny, charming, flirtatious banter, it’s not long before Alana is a bit more than a mere friend. “Don’t be creepy, please.”

In fact, when Gary’s mother (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) is unable to take him to a PR spot in New York for the show “Under One Roof,” in which he has a minor role (he’s a smalltime child actor), Alana serves as his chaperone, enabling him to fly there to participate. Unfortunately, she meets one of his costars, Lance (Skyler Gisondo), an older boy who manages to quickly snatch her away. But Gary isn’t the kind of teen to give up so easily; time may pass, but she’s sure to reenter his life eventually.

Set in the San Fernando Valley in the early ’70s, “Licorice Pizza” is slow – or perhaps careful – to establish the direction it’s going, but it’s immediately entrancing in its character development. Gary and Alana are exceptionally likable right from the start; they’re unusually cinematic in their absolute normalcy. There’s a sweetness and an authenticity to their portrayals, rarely seen in other pictures – even though their age gap might be problematic for some, especially if the genders were reversed (it’s far more of a middle-school sweetheart situation, with little emphasis on sex; compatibility proves incredibly relevant here). Gary’s age could have been bumped up to 18, but the film is based around several real people, which is surely the cause of that decision. And their naturalness is expertly supplemented by wildly eccentric supporting roles, some of whom are recognizable character actors (and a few surprise, bigger names).

Somewhat reminiscent of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (and “Almost Famous,” marginally), this intimate, amusing film moves through seemingly random events in the lives of these two personas as they navigate adolescence, burgeoning careers, friendships, family, and young love. Primarily, they experience romantic ups and downs as their ages and business ventures find them connecting and then disconnecting at various moments; the focus is clearly on the ways in which they fall in and out of love (with rivalry and jealousy) during outrageous misadventures – sometimes boasting extreme coincidences. Strikingly, it’s innocent and appealing, straying away from the darker elements of sexual maturation seen in many dourer coming-of-age yarns. And plenty of these sprightly episodes involve notable historical or political junctures, highlighted by Gary and Alana’s blithe (and intermittently melancholy) interventions, perhaps comparable to the likes of “Forrest Gump.”

As the two leads struggle to end up with one another, despite so clearly being right together in the context of this premise (an old-fashioned concept, but one that works wonders here), writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson infuses a tremendous amount of realistic, harmonious humor. The dialogue is quite hilarious, routinely demonstrating a flair for genuineness and tenderness. And despite the minimal scope, possessing an autobiographical feel (particularly with the casting [including two first-timers] and storyline [a write-what-you-know environment]; it is, in fact, loosely based on a real person, Gary Goetzman), “Licorice Pizza” is an enormously entertaining, touching journey, with an unwaveringly feel-good vibe.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10