Licorice Pizza Review

Paul Thomas Anderson proves once more that he must rely on a family member of the Hoffman bloodline to make a personable and frank display of cultural insignificance. Licorice Pizza is a film about nothing. A feature that feels closer to Robert Altman or David Byrne’s True Stories than something contemptible or active. It flutters through key pointers of the 1970s, from the political struggle and lack of honesty, the implications of public homosexuality and the taboo subject of age ranges and relationships. Anderson handles all of that with a predictably heavy hand at times, with little variation for the ethical considerations. That much is fair and understandable, the criticism of the relationship at the core of Licorice Pizza is thoroughly justified, but is that not the point?

While the film sets itself down the path of an inevitably tight and happy ending, much of the preceding scenes show that the fireworks will dissipate and the grand finale will trundle on as a brief and sparing moment of poor clarity. Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman do well to understand that struggle, their two characters (Alana Kane and Gary Valentine respectively) are doomed to a back and forth of warring factions and unexplainable attraction. It is the taboo that surrounds it and the offhand dialogue that features in scenes with Bradley Cooper provide depth to that. It is not just a sick fantasy as many would perceive this Anderson feature of, but a stretch of a style that has featured and been picked through in films as early as Boogie Nights.

An ensemble that comes together without really sharing scenes with one another, pastimes, hobbies and pursuits fizzle out and go nowhere in particular. Hoffman’s leading role is stellar, but Valentine is a cocky kid who goes from budding young actor to waterbed salesman to arcade owner without much concern for why or how that may happen. The same goes for Kane, who splutters through working at a photography clinic, becoming an employee of the waterbed company, manning a local election team and pursuing acting, however briefly. It shows that Altman trick, the flash in the pan so frequently relied upon by Anderson is more of a stuttered and confusing blow than something that can help these fantastic leading performers. Cameos abound, too, with Sean Penn, Tom Waits and John C. Reilly fluttering through this feature without much fanfare or affliction to the story.

What they do is create moments. Moments make up Licorice Pizza almost as much as the two characters at the core. Life happens to them, they are moving on and around one another as they deal with this fire or that disaster. Arrests, acts of defiance spurred on for no particular reason and the warring tides of a love-hate relationship. All of it features in Licorice Pizza with exciting practicality, but Anderson can make neither heads nor tails of it at times. Leaving one subplot to pursue the next leaves not just the passion of a character behind, but the audience along with it. For every avenue of success Licorice Pizza follows down, it turns itself around over and over, getting lost in its own ambition.

One thought on “Licorice Pizza Review”

  1. I expected to love this movie with its 1970’s over-the-top nostalgia, and love letter to L.A. vibes–not to mention the critics fawning all over it. But I was bored. The characters truly epitomized life in the suburban San Fernando Valley–banal, average, boring, forgetful. Sometimes sentiments should stay just that.

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