It’s once in a blue moon that a film as unique and captivating as Licorice Pizza comes along. And as you’re watching it, you’re fully aware that you’re watching a movie that will become a cult classic.
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread), Licorice Pizza tells the story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine as they grow up, get into mischief, and fall in love in California’s San Fernando Valley in the 1970s.
Licorice Pizza Movie Review: What I Did and Didn’t Like
This coming-of-age comedy-drama couldn’t be more refreshing and charming. As a whole, Licorice Pizza feels like that first breath of air after you take off your mask. We need more films like this in our theaters.
A few interesting facts before I dive into specifics… The main character, Gary Valentine, is played by Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. If you’re a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson, then you likely know that he and Philip Seymour Hoffman worked together on a number of films over the last couple of decades. So it’s extra special to see Cooper working with Anderson on this project.
The character of Gary Valentine is actually based on a friend of Anderson’s, Gary Goetzman. Goetzman is also the co-founder of Playtone, Tom Hank’s production company. While not everything in the film is pulled from real events – some of the events actually did happen, which makes me want to watch the extras on the DVD all the more when it releases.
The casting of leads Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman is what truly makes this film soar. While the script is fantastic in its own right, the life that each of these young actors brings to these roles is remarkable.
Let’s start with Alana Haim, who plays Alana Kane. While she’s new to the big screen, she’s not new to the entertainment industry. She’s a member of brand Haim along with her sisters, who also appear in the film.
Alana Kane is confident, cool, and honest in a way that’s disarming. Yet, you still see her insecurities buried beneath her surface. She’s a complex character that Haim manages to make shine. You simply can’t take your eyes off of her.
Then there’s Cooper Hoffman. While he’s not typical Hollywood handsome, he’s so freaking charming that you can’t help but fall in love with Gary Valentine and his drive to never back down or give up. He has a drive and a hustle that fuels him, and his feelings for Alana are palpable in the most innocent way.
Just like falling in love for the first time is something extraordinary, so is watching these two together.
While there are a number of impressive cameos in the film, the best by far is that of Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters. He’s over-the-top and manic. Yet, he has some of the best comedic and memorable moments in the film.
As mentioned earlier, there are numerous parts of this film, and the characters within, that are inspired by real happenings and real people. Legendary hairdresser-turned-Hollywood producer Jon Peters is one of them.
Anderson reportedly asked Peters for permission to use his real name, and Peters gave him the thumbs up. Surprising, considering how absolutely insane he comes across in this story. However, the brief scenes with Peters are some of the film’s most entertaining and unforgettable notes.
Sean Penn, Tom Waits, and Benny Safdie round out the cast – all delivering fantastic performances. And while the cameos all provide a nice touch with a dash of humor, none of them are really needed to make this film soar.
The Story & Script
I’ll be voting for Licorice Pizza‘s screenplay (for Best Screenplay of the Year) in all the film critics groups I’m in. I absolutely adored the script – despite the one major issue I had with the overall story. Alana Kane is 25, and Gary Valentine is 15. I had a hard time getting past that. Though it’s one of the nuances of this story that I think makes it work really well.
There is sexual tension between these characters, which could have gotten uncomfortable due to the age difference. However, both Gary and Alana have mutual respect for each other, which actually aids in their connection. It also makes the audience fall all the harder for this unlikely couple, who feel as if they’re soulmates.
The dialogue is brilliantly constructed, and the characters feel real and emotionally raw in such a beautiful and vulnerable way. And while the story does seem to jump around, it does so in a way that feels like a friend telling you an old story.
From beginning to end, it’s just effortlessly charming.
Licorice Pizza Movie Review: Overall Thoughts
I still remember the magic I experienced the first time I saw Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. There’s a similar vibe and magic here.
Licorice Pizza captures what it feels like to fall in love for the first time. It’s enchanting, sweet, comical, and sometimes extremely awkward. And it’s something you’ll never forget.
This film is a rare gem in today’s age of cinema, and it’s arguably the best film of Paul Thomas Anderson’s career. But, at the end of the day, it’s a wonderfully quirky film that will put a smile on your face and warmth in your heart. This one is something truly special.
Licorice Pizza opened in limited release on November 26th, 2021, and will debut in wide release on December 25, 2021.
Licorice Pizza Movie Review:
Licorice Pizza Movie Soundtrack
As a bonus, it’s absolutely worth mentioning that this film has a killer soundtrack, which we’ve embedded below for your streaming pleasure!