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Licorice Pizza

 

This is a very different Paul Thomas Anderson film. In earlier works, like There Will be Blood and Phantom Thread, every scene is controlled and precise. In this film, it is as if Anderson threw caution to the wind and let himself be carefree and let the actors reflect that freedom. This coming-of-age story is set in the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s. Cooper Hoffman (Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son!) is Gary, a 15-year-old high school student, child actor, and successful entrepreneur who seems to believe himself to be much more important than he actually is, is getting his yearbook picture taken when he meets Alana (Alana Haim), a young woman in her mid-20’s and who is the assistant to the photographer. Gary immediately tells the world that this is the woman who will be his wife in the future. For the next two hours, we follow the development of their quirky relationship as they start businesses together and wander around the valley, him an enterprising teenager and she a young woman who seems oddly attracted to the freedom of 14 and 15-year old kids. The iconic 70’s music and the cinematography are skillfully used to create a solid sense of place and time. Many parts of the film look like those old yellowed and grainy Kodak photos we took back in the day. What is also incredible is the amazing performances Anderson gets from his two leads; I don’t think either of them has been in a major picture before this one. I am sure there will be a lot of award buzz for Alana Haim, whose character is 25 but is still attracted to the teenage antics of Gary and the friends he hangs with and who is still trying to find her own place in the world. Other roles played by more well-known actors, including Bradley Cooper Sean Penn, Tom Waits, and Ben Safdie, are great; Cooper’s Jon Peters, an ex-boyfriend of Barbara Streisand, is funny and over the top. This is a wonderful film, one whose story and music stuck in my mind well after the movie ended. It is a movie that just made me feel great during and for quite some time afterward. Paul Thomas Anderson continues a streak of not making any films that are less than A quality. (2021; 5 Stars)

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