Licorice Pizza (2021)

PTA’s indelible 1970s romance between a teenage boy and an older woman (Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim are sensational) is akin to a cinematic relaxant, suffused with good, nostalgic vibes yet there’s enough of a slight overdose of unpredictability and peril to last the course.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,346

Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
2021 | USA | Drama/Romance/Comedy | 133 mins | 2.39:1 | English
NC16 (passed clean) for language, sexual material and some drug use.

Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper
Plot: The story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973.
Awards: Nom. for 3 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay
Distributor: United International Pictures

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – First Love; Coming-of-Age
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: In Theatres – The Projector
Spoilers: No

Paul Thomas Anderson is my favourite American filmmaker of his generation.  He’s also one of the most consistent directors around.  His latest, already his ninth feature, sees him in a comfortable, playful mood. 

Previously titled ‘Soggy Bottom’, Licorice Pizza feels like a mix of vibes from Boogie Nights (1997), Punch-Drunk Love (2002) and Inherent Vice (2014), yet it is unlike anything Anderson has done before. 

Starring Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) and singer Alana Haim as a teenage boy and an older woman respectively who strike up a semi-romantic relationship, Licorice Pizza is set in the nostalgic early 1970s, a decade that Anderson renders with many indelible long takes. 

There isn’t much of a plot here, so the idea is to immerse yourself in the relationships, time and place. There are cameos by Sean Penn and Tom Waits, though I suspect the film would still work as well without their segment. 

“Soggy Bottom sounds like someone shit their pants.”

What drives the loose narrative are Hoffman and Haim’s sensational performances, both in their acting debuts, though it remains to be seen whether they can score Oscar nominations in a crowded field. 

A cinematic relaxant if there ever was one, Licorice Pizza is suffused with good vibes, akin to having a casual round of drinks with friends, yet there’s enough of a slight overdose of unpredictability to last the course. 

One of the film’s standout sequences involves a truck in the middle of the night and Bradley Cooper, a masterclass by Anderson in introducing peril in an otherwise non-eventful series of scenes, no different than what he masterfully accomplished in There Will Be Blood (2007) with that strategically-timed burning oil rig sequence. 

Let’s see if PTA will get his first overdue Oscar—a best original screenplay win maybe?

Grade: A-




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