Wednesday, March 16, 2022

'Licorice Pizza' review: a shaggy dog story


Licorice Pizza

Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson

Prod: 8 listed

Scr: Paul Thomas Anderson

Pho: Paul Thomas Anderson, Michael Bauman


Nostalgia is cheap, but it’s tough to pull off convincingly. It’s easy to stir up rosy rememberings of times gone by, and the past soon becomes a playground for the fond imagination – unless you get the details wrong. Such is not the case with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, a ‘70s coming-of-age dramedy that features the breakout performance of its new-to-film leads, Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman. It’s a clever, lightweight movie that is happy to tell some shaggy dog stories to while away your time.

Like many of Anderson’s films, it’s a fanciful look at a particular era, in which the San Fernando Valley serves as a kind of gas-crisis era Brigadoon, an enchanted place where things happen, but serious things don’t, where the grown-ups are all seemingly morons or maniacs. Of this milieu is 15-year-old Gary Valentine (Hoffman), an erstwhile child actor who is aging out of his profession. At his high-school Picture Day he meets 25-year-old Alana (Haim), the photographer’s assistant. For Gary, it’s love at first sight; for Alana, it’s annoying.

What follows are the somewhat random adventures of the two on their way to a forseeable future together. Anderson spices up the story with star character turns – Bradley Cooper, Tom Waits, Sean Penn – that keep the audience alert. It’s all in good fun. Gary tries to become a waterbed entrepreneur; Gary opens a pinball arcade. Alana drifts from job to job and tries out various men for size; they don’t suit her.

The biggest reason to see the film is to watch the lanky, awkward, and beautiful Alana Haim. She’s obviously a new actress, but she’s refreshingly readable, open and disingenuous to a degree not seen since Richard Linklater’s cast of unknowns in his ‘70s high-school saga Dazed and Confused. Haim is a heart-stealer, and her presence keeps the interest alive even when the movie ambles down some dead-end paths.

Those looking for a linear story will be quite frustrated, but for those with patience, Licorice Pizza is rewarding.

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