Paul Thomas Andersons eighth feature film, the pleasantly chaotic Licorice Pizza, looks like the most autobiographical film the 51-year-old writer-director has made to date, even though the script was based on someone else’s memories: namely, those of the child actor turned successful producer Gary Goetzman, whose stories Anderson heard while they both worked for the late Maestro Jonathan Demme.
Like Goetzman, Anderson grew up in Southern California, his high school years coming about a decade after the early ’70s when this movie is set. And like Licorice PizzaTeenage hero Gary (Cooper Hoffman) Anderson also grew up on the fringes of the entertainment industry. Her father, who died in 1997, was an ABC voiceover presenter and the former host of a block of local late-night horror movies, the kind of jolly, joker character who appears time and time again in his son’s Californian job. . No one loves a little wheel merchant more than Paul Thomas Anderson, and Gary’s last name is Valentine for a reason: The man behind the camera clearly loves this bold and confident boy, not least because the actor Who plays him is the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, 18, longtime Anderson collaborator and close friend.
The other half of the couple May / end of June in the heart of Licorice Pizza (she is 25 to 15 years old) is Alana Kane, singer Alana Haim’s fictional alter ego. From the moment Alana first appears, resplendent in a miniskirt and wedge sandals, in the walkway of Garys San Fernando Valley High School, she exudes a winning mix of arrogant bravado and wacky vulnerability. Alana, who works as an assistant to a portrait photographer at the school, is quick-witted, sardonic and ambitious without quite knowing what she wants to be. To Gary, instantly enamored, and to the audience, she looks like a movie star in the making.
Though she pokes fun at her clumsy attempts at flirting, the two quickly form a thorny competitive bond that sits somewhere between friendship and business partnership. When Gary, an actor working part-time with a busy single mom, needs a grown-up chaperone to get to a commercial appearance in New York City, he convinces Alana to accompany him as a tutor. They later try unsuccessfully to launch her into her own acting career, with Gary as an enthusiastic but unsuspecting coach. When that idea goes south, they team up with some of Garys ‘classmates to start a business selling and delivering Los Angeles’ latest shady sophistication: waterbeds. This in turn gives way to a teenage pinball parlor called Fat Bernies, which Gary chairs with the good humor of a Vegas casino owner.
It’s in this wacky mid-stretch, when a series of A-List movie stars appear in extended cameos as other barely-disguised A-List movie stars, that the film hits its stride. . A series of vignettes reveal a shadow of Los Angeles coexisting alongside Alana and Garys in the sunny suburban world. At Tail o the Cock, the Studio City steakhouse Gary considers his personal social club, they meet a William Holden-style actor, a booze drinker named Jack Holden (Sean Penn), whose attempt to get Alana back has derailed. by his. madness in search of sensations. While delivering a waterbed to a posh address, they meet Jon Peters (a hilariously hired Bradley Cooper), the real-life celebrity hairstylist and legendary womanizer who is said to have been the inspiration for Warren Beattys’ character in Shampoo. The comedic chase that ensues when they run up against this paranoid, coked-up horndog is as close as the film reaches true suspense.
Licorice PizzaThe structure of s is shaggy and organic. While the dialogue is too loaded with well-placed zingers to have been improvised on set, it feels like the story is bubbling straight from the brains of its creators, the freewheeling camera work (by Anderson and Michael Bauman) expressing his ideas as directly as a pen on paper. The soundtrack is a mix of period-appropriate needle drops (David Bowie, Suzie Quatro, Paul McCartney and Wings) and a scintillating score by Jonny Greenwood. The image, shot on 35mm film, is also somehow appropriate for the times, all lens reflections and tracking shots smooth, with a propulsive forward motion that mimics energy. unlimited and always uncontained of the young characters.
For all its seedy romanticism, Licorice PizzaThis vision is not without political and social complications.
Anderson’s work has always been indebted to the great cinematic poet of Southern California hippie culture, Robert Altman. The sprawling, swirling world that surrounds Alana and Gary as they wander the valley making sometimes regrettable choices is, in particular, reminiscent of Altmans’ early 1970s prismatic LA. The long goodbye, a place full of larger-than-life characters and enigmatic encounters. But despite all its seedy romanticism, Licorice PizzaThe outlook on life as a key child in the Nixon administration is not without political and social complications. The energy crisis and resulting gasoline shortages play a recurring role in the story, in addition to providing a backdrop for a thrilling run through a line of stopped cars. Towards the end of the film, Alana begins working for a young progressive mayoral candidate, Joel Wachs (Benny Safdie), whose private life offers a tragic glimpse into a late 20’s feature film.e-th century life decidedly not worthy of nostalgia.
Not all grounding attempts Licorice Pizza in a denostalgic past is bearing fruit. A running gag about a white restaurant owner with a series of interchangeable Japanese wives seems like a joke about the racism of the characters, but the joke lands without grace. And the question of whether Alana and Garys ‘quasi-romance violates the age of consent limits is never raised, even though her family (played by Haims’ actual family, including her siblings) turns out to be traditional and very united. Granted, the film takes place at a time and place where a high school student courting a peer in his twenties probably wouldn’t have been the scandal it would be today, but Anderson, whose oldest is about the age of of Gary’s characters, could nevertheless have inserted at least one character who objected to the age gap. The only person on screen who questions him is Alana herself, wondering if her sister is weird hanging out with Gary and her 15-year-old friends and concluding, with some self-mockery, that it is the case.
Licorice Pizza, whose name comes from a chain of record stores SoCal that never appears in history, is less a film than a mood, a series of linked atmospheres. A cranky man might say that the film’s momentum slows down in the second half, and its two-hour and 13-minute runtime could have been slashed by 20 minutes. But thanks in large part to its fresh-faced stars, the charming Hoffman and the very charismatic Haim, I find it hard to think of a recent movie that I wish I could have stayed longer in the world.
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