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?
In the dying days of the hippie movement, the drug culture lingered as the fashion craze receded. There was the hanger-on’s, of course, and Inherent Vice showcases one of those many men who refused to believe the good times were over. Loose-fitting shirts combine those looser attitudes to life and everything expected of the average person. Paul Thomas Anderson’s drug-seeped, seventies genre blender is a piece holding onto the hope that those good times may come again. It is the driving force behind leading man Joaquin Phoenix, whose performance as Larry “Doc” Sportello sees the shades of the sixties clash with the slowly modernising values of a whole new decade.
With such a promising ensemble, it’s hard to see how Magnolia could be anything other than a superbly layered character study of intertwining lives. Like Desperate Housewives, but over the course of two and a half hours, rather than an aeon. Paul Thomas Anderson’s dramatic titan sees a collection of stories, the highs and lows of a rough handful of individuals connected by chance, flimsy narratives or shady dealings. Whether it works or not, it’s hard not to appreciate how big of an ask Anderson proposes to his cast, a project that has to have the right amount of connection between roles, enough to engage an audience, but not enough to incite obvious cliché.
Throughout the 1990s, there was such a strange influx in gangster, crime and casino-oriented films. I blame Martin Scorsese for this decade long trend. He piloted this odd niche, crafting Goodfellas and Casino within five years of each other. Other directors attempted to latch onto this success, and newcomer Paul Thomas Anderson was one of them. In his directorial debut, Hard Eight, we’re thrown into a tepid relationship between a down on his luck casino player and one stranger who looks to pull him out of the dark and build him as his protégé. It’s an interesting premise that never quite takes flight.