This review of Licorice Pizza is written by guest writer Tracy Aronoff.
Licorice Pizza is a 2021 romantic comedy drama film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, written by Paul Thomas Anderson, produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Focus Features, Bron Creative, and Ghoulardi Film Company, and distributed by United Artists and Universal Pictures. The film stars Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman. It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, but did not win any of those.
"I'm not going on a date with you, man. You're fifteen." - Alana Kane
Alana Kane is a photographer's assistant in her mid 20s. When she meets Gary Valentine, a fifteen-year-old student, her and Gary navigate falling in love in the 1970s San Fernando Valley.
My Favorite Part of Licorice Pizza
There’s really nothing better than a throwback coming-of-age movie that takes place in the seventies. The movie pulls on the nostalgic heartstrings of those longing for a better decade. Back in the day when it was okay to trust your neighbor, let your kids roam free, or let your sixteen-year-old son run your PR business — as it so happens in the plot of this movie.
Segues aside, the characters are all strangely lovable. Protagonist Gary Valentine strikes the perfect balance of awkward yet courageous and bold. We are introduced to his character as he is taking his high school picture, but as only a whimsical 70s movie can pull off, we never see him in school again. Instead, he embarks on the most ridiculous business adventures while falling in love with a woman ten years older.
Speaking of that woman...meet Alana Kane. She plays the role of a not-so-nice Jewish pulled between familial expectations and the feminist ideals of the seventies. Anyone in a religious household can relate.
The first meeting between them happens while Valentine is taking his yearbook photo. Alana is there as part of the photography crew, offering a handheld mirror to any teenager vain enough to take it. Of course, Valentine does. And so it begins. Valentine flirts and Alana is subtly smitten by the attention he dotes on her. She holds back though, because she knows it's not okay to enjoy the attention of a minor ten years younger than her. She is twenty-five and he is only fifteen.
The two forge a realistic and uplifting friendship that is fun to watch. As the viewer, you are pulled in the backseat of the glacier blue 1968 Pontiac GTO to ride along on their whimsical adventure (no seatbelt, of course, because no one did that in the seventies). And why not? You might as well see where this journey takes you.
My Least Favorite Part of Licorice Pizza
Probably better to wear a seatbelt for this one, because there are lots of sharp turns in this film. While the characters draw you in and you root for them the whole time, their adventures go a little too far. And the connective tissue from scene to scene is lacking. The movie jumps from a crazy far-fetched situation to an even crazier, even further fetched situation, and the viewer feels the whiplash. Audience members will find themselves whispering under their breath “Wait, what was that?" or "What happened to him?”...so on and so forth.
There is, perhaps, a reality that we are supposed to ignore; but there are simply too many wacky and crazy situations that beg for an explanation, yet we are left without one.
Perhaps the insanity piques when Sean Penn, a washed up actor jumps over a fire on a motorcycle while completely drunk, or maybe when an unhinged, seventies version of Bradley Cooper leaves a group of kids to set up a waterbed in his mansion as he goes out on a date with Barbara Streisand (who, sadly, is not in the movie). But, no, the movie goes on and on and the ridiculousness ensues.
So, okay, I can gladly suspend reality and hold back my questions for these eccentric teenagers from a bygone era. But, for all the grace and latitude, I would expect an extraordinary finale. Something that ties it all together. Instead, we get a measly 80s rom-com ending that is highly unsatisfactory. It’s like the movie hits its stride and just plateaus.
Final Thoughts and Score
With likable characters and fabulous acting, one would expect greatness from Licorice Pizza, but a loose grasp on reality and a letdown of an ending hold it back from being the critical phenomenon that it's been called. I wanted to love this movie. I found myself holding out hope, but to no avail, I was disappointed.
I will still go Savory here. Age range is 14+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad)
Fun Factor: 7/10
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Rated R for sexual content, language, drug use, thematic elements
Released on November 26, 2021
2 hours and 13 minutes
Alana Haim as Alana Kane
Cooper Hoffman as Gary Valentine
Sean Penn as Jack Holden
Tom Waits as Rex Blau
Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters
Benny Safdie as Joel Wachs