Paul Thomas Anderson knows how to capture love. Be it between Adam Sandler and a punch drunk love or between a man and drinking your milkshake. Sometimes PTA takes the dramatic route, sometimes it’s the comical path. Regardless, we always end up meeting some characters who we fall in love with.
Licorice Pizza, the new film written and directed by Anderson, is showcasing a first love. The 70’s era romance centers around the young showman Gary Valentine, played by the amazing Cooper Hoffman and Alana Kane, played by Haim sister Alana Haim. Navigating the San Fernando Valley and who they want to be, the two have to face the trials and tribulations of growing up. Their age difference may be a lot, but there is still a lot in common about finding who you are regardless of what year you were born. Both Gary and Alana meet the comical characters of Los Angeles while falling in and out of love, their story emphasized by the odd events that occur through their budding romance.
Everything on paper about Licorice Pizza is Oscar bait. It has the actors, it has the director, the music, the writing. It has the indie yet mainstream push in theaters. You go because we all love Paul Thomas Anderson and the places he’s taken us. And there’s a lot to be said about this film, but there’s a lot missing to be talked about as well.
The film feels like a bunch of fun memories compacted into a film that hits the almost 3 hour mark. It’s disjointed but the romance between Alana and Gary keeps the string throughout. It’s hard to explain. There are some comically perfect scenes, the character actors alone taking your attention with every line. Yet there’s no real story happening. Gary and Alana are sort of falling in love and sort of not and yet it feels like they are married and in fights no kids should be in. I never really understood the chemistry between the two stars but it came and went. There were some amazing moments but also a few comical scenes situated between some slow moving events that didn’t really make this feel like a film.
The controversy at the forefront of this film though is the age difference between Gary and Alana. Gary is 15 and Alana is 25. The gap between the ages was addressed within the first scene of them meeting. And I understood the difference to be sort of the main feature of the plot, growing up happens at any age. I can see both sides of the argument, but honestly it didn’t play a big enough role to take me out of the film…but it is odd.
Still, regardless, there is a beautiful story between the scenes. There’s still a smile that hits your face when Alana and Gary are having those first love little glance moments. The friendships and events are odd but seem organic for Los Angeles in the 70’s weirdly enough. And there are some laugh out loud hilarious jokes that hit so well in some scenes. Also keep a look out for some amazing cameos, including Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper (but keep your eyes peeled for the actor playing Frankenstein).
In the end Licorice Pizza simply centers around two star crossed lovers simply trying to navigate life, but no matter what they always find themselves running back to one another, literally. It’s a love letter to the absurdity of love and Los Angeles signed, sealed and delivered the Paul Thomas Anderson way.
Final Licorice Thoughts?
At the end of the day I looked at the box of Licorice Pizza and was intrigued. I took a few bites and it fulfilled some taste bud needs but it left me wanting something else. There’s just something that doesn’t feel like a complete meal although what was served was cooked to perfection.
Writer. Geek. Final Girl.