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Home»Review»Licorice Pizza review: The most unconventional Paul Thomas Anderson love story»

Licorice Pizza review: The most unconventional Paul Thomas Anderson love story

The acclaimed director’s latest film may have pushed the boundaries concerning the ideas of what is acceptable when it comes to love and romance

  • Ryan Gomez

Last Updated: 09.54 AM, Jul 26, 2022

Licorice Pizza review: The most unconventional Paul Thomas Anderson love story

Story: Set in the early 70s in the infamous San Fernando Valley of California, which was at the cusp of becoming the adult film industry capital of the world, an ambitious 15-year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) wants to live the American Dream. In all his master plans to become a wealthy entrepreneur, he envisions Alana Kane (Alana Haim) alongside him. Alana, in her early 20s, rebuffs his romantic advances for obvious reasons but they soon strike a friendship which Gary hopes could become something more in the future.

Review: There are only a handful of global filmmakers who consistently deliver excellence in cinema, and Paul Thomas Anderson is most certainly one among them. His films such as Boogie Nights, Mongolia, and There Will Be Blood are a unique combination of character as well as plot-driven narratives. He has mastered the art of examining flawed characters within extraordinary settings. Licorice Pizza is no different in that regard, and while the plot at first glance might come across as s conventional coming-of-age love story in a period setting, the respective journeys the protagonists undertake over the course of the narrative are far from what one would consider as ‘typical’.

The primary characters, Gary and Alana, despite being portrayed as mature far beyond their age are shown to have a streak of naivety and childishness within them. Gary, a street-smart teenager, is depicted to have an acumen for business and the capitalist model thriving in America. He is well-informed, charming, and could be identified as a visionary of sorts. But his emotions do get the better of him at times, and more often than not, force him to make rash decisions on impulse. Similarly, Alana is also ambitious, level-headed, and highly intelligent, but has a tendency to put her faith in the wrong individuals.

The 70s aesthetic of urban California is captured by Anderson with great attention to detail. This gives the audience a first-hand experience of a lifestyle which is almost alien, especially on a global scale. It gives artistic value to the film and helps establish the time period as a character in the story. It also utilises real historic events and real people such as Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper), to accentuate the narrative’s authenticity. The excellent performances of the two lead actors are also instrumental in keeping the audience invested in the screenplay. Gary Hoffman, son of Academy Award-winner, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, has certainly showcased his acting credentials. Despite being the younger Hoffman’s only major acting credit, he has essayed the role with maturity and gravitas.

If the film were to be perceived under a different lens one might mistake it for a darker satire on the toxic relationship between a minor and an adult, and considering Gary is at least three years away from being legally an adult, that would make Alana a felon in the eyes of the law, at least in contemporary American laws. But Anderson has refused to acknowledge this aspect of their relationship in the film. Their attraction for each other is romanticised, an irony in itself, to the extent that one would fail to empathise with these characters. This puts the film in an unfortunate predicament where the third act becomes insignificant, regardless of the film’s technical prowess and Anderson's undeniable directional ingenuity.

The plot and the various subplots are often thrown in at random without a smooth transition between them. It could be argued that these are deliberate inconsistencies to mirror the chaotic lives of the protagonists — from Gary’s waterbed business, Alana’s career from actor to city councilman’s staffer, and to their various misadventures. At its core, the film is a coming-of-age story, and like most characters from Anderson’s previous films, Alana and Gary are complex individuals, and so is their relationship.

Verdict: Licorice Pizza offers everything one would expect from a Paul Thomas Anderson film — great performances, fleshed-out yet unconventional characters, and a thought-provoking narrative. However, the film's subtext is lost in its discourse, or the lack thereof, about its problematic themes, and the glorification of a romantic relationship between a minor and an adult.