Licorice Pizza - SPOILERS!

Started by wilberfan, November 05, 2021, 08:30:50 PM

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Quote from: Jeremy Blackman on November 26, 2021, 03:53:03 AM
Quote"If there are no consequences, scenes like this can almost glorify this behavior,"

I just can't get over this. So bad behavior must always be punished in a movie, otherwise you're endorsing it? What a bizarre and childish thing to expect from art.

What I understand is that if the movie ended with Higgins' character tied on a stake and covered in tar and feathers, it would have 97 in Metacritic (100 if the age gap was fixed, as well).


Licorice Pizza's Unlikely Romance Is the Least Interesting Thing About It

QuoteAlana Kane, the tempestuous 25-year-old played by Alana Haim in Licorice Pizza, is waiting around for adulthood to happen to her. She lives at home with her parents and her two older sisters (all played by the other members of the Haim family), and works for a school photographer, a job that isn't helping in how it keeps her circulating among teenagers. It's while at a portrait day that she meets Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman), a 15-year-old who's doing his damndest to will himself right into middle age, and who makes a pass at her that's so ridiculous — he invites her to swing by the upscale Tail o' the Cock restaurant on Friday, when he claims to regularly dine there — that she's intrigued despite knowing better. Given the actual men that Alana meets over the course of the movie, who range from the barely seen first boss who doles out casual ass slaps to a hilariously feral Bradley Cooper as hairdresser-turned-Barbra Streisand-spouse Jon Peters, it isn't hard to understand why the playacted but harmless form of maturity affected by Gary might be appealing. Licorice Pizza — a movie as exasperating as it is delightful — could be described as an exploration of the unstable ground where Alana's arrested development and Gary's precociousness meet.

Except, and here's the thing about Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, Alana and Gary's untenable maybe-romance is the least compelling aspect of the movie. Licorice Pizza is as much a meander through the peculiarities of the San Fernando Valley — close enough to Hollywood for unglamorous brushes with show business, and far enough away to feel like any other aimless suburb — in 1973 as it is about the two kids at its center, and its best parts are ones in which the kids are an excuse for some unpredictable digression rather than the center of one. It's not that Alana and Gary are unlikable, though the movie tends to be more enchanted with the latter, its SoCal Max Fischer, while letting the former slip in and out of focus. Haim, in her first acting role, is testily compelling, slipping between raw vulnerability and outbursts of disbelief in herself for glomming onto a high school friend group. Fellow first-timer Hoffman, son of the later Philip Seymour, plays into Gary's ex-child actor dynamic, pairing that eerily poised presence with a face still soft with boyishness. But these characters' will-they-or-won't-they poses a question for which there's no satisfying answer. Either Alana gets her shit together and puts away childish things, or this grown woman and teenage boy run off into the sunset together in a way that's impossible to root for, while also obviously doomed.

Licorice Pizza isn't really Alana's story, but it isn't quite Gary's, either, and the movie really needs to belong to one of them in order to feel a little less like an extended fantasy about wanting to boink one's babysitter. But if it isn't able to offer a perfectly offbeat romance on the level of Punch-Drunk Love and Phantom Thread, it's not discardable, either. It's a Valley idyll that feels like it could encompass a stretch of time that's anywhere from a few weeks to a year, the weather constant, school barely spoken of. Given the youth of its characters, it almost makes more sense for the story to take place over some hectically compressed period that only feels like it's stretching out forever. Gary, who's constantly coming up with entrepreneurial side-hustles, starts a waterbed business that somehow becomes a pinball arcade by the movie's end. Alana, filled with confusing jealousy as well as a desire to do something with her life, goes on a date with a beef jerkyesque man's man actor named Jack Holden (Sean Penn) and starts volunteering for the campaign of an idealistic but closeted politician (Benny Safdie), and somehow always makes sure Gary is around to see.

The narrative cul-de-sacs these exploits lead to are mostly wonderful, save for the appearance of John Michael Higgins as a racist Japanese restaurant owner — the kind of joke whose butt is obvious but that results in laughter that's less precise in its target. All of these episodes are messy, as though some choice recollections were gathered at a bar one night and then dramatized. The encounter with Peters, whom Cooper plays as a volcanic font of macho posturing and horniness, is the movie's highlight, a misadventure involving a waterbed delivery, a gas shortage, and some wondrous timing. But almost as good is the sequence in which Alana ends up on the back of Jack's motorcycle at the goading of an equally pickled director (Tom Waits) who wants Jack to reprise a famous stunt. A priceless Harriet Sansom Harris pops up to play a casting director who informs Alana that she has "a very Jewish nose — which is becoming more fashionable." And Joseph Cross has a lovely, heartbreaking moment as an unacknowledged boyfriend Alana is summoned to play the beard for.

The urge to describe Licorice Pizza as nostalgic is an understandable one, given its unapologetic wallow in the textures of its particular place, where Anderson grew up, and its particular time, when he was a child too young to log these experiences himself. But the film is too prickly in its depictions of the era to be accused of glossing over ugliness. Its backward-looking longing has more to do with a desire to return to the uncertainty of the period of life its two characters straddle. There's an understanding, one that can only come after the fact, that those feelings of being lost are a sort of privilege.


Apparently Nayman said "fuck it" and wrote a whole new chapter for his book instead of a review.

Spoiler: ShowHide
QuotePaul Thomas Anderson Lets Go With 'Licorice Pizza'
The notorious control freak has loosened the grip on his phantom threads and delivered a transcendent, free-flowing trip through his past

The funniest moment in any Paul Thomas Anderson movie comes in The Master, when cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) asks his acolyte Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) to pick a point in the distance and ride toward it on a motorcycle. Ever literal-minded, Freddie sets his sights on the horizon and just keeps driving, eventually out of sight and beyond his mentor's reach. It's an act of spiritual emancipation that Anderson's filmmaking transforms into a sublime sight gag. Like the hijacked chopper, Freddie's a machine with plenty of horsepower and a lightning-quick accelerator: If you start him up, he'll never stop.

There are plenty of such unbounded sensations in Anderson's movies; characters cruising across the widescreen frame. Think of Philip Baker Hall patrolling the casino floor in Hard Eight, or Adam Sandler's desperate sprints through darkened streets in Punch-Drunk Love. Or: Daniel Day-Lewis staggering implacably down the expanse of a basement bowling alley in There Will Be Blood, or speeding through the night in his sports car in Phantom Thread. To paraphrase Magnolia's musical narrator Aimee Mann, at its best, Anderson's cinema is all for the sake of momentum. PTA's new coming-of-age comedy Licorice Pizza features a tracking shot that ranks with any of these highlights: Surveying the chaos around his local gas station—it's 1973 and the OPEC crisis is in full swing—15-year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) barrels past the stalled cars crowing about the end of the world as he knows it. He feels fine, and why wouldn't he? After all, it's not like he can drive—and as David Bowie's "Life on Mars" crescendos in sync with Gary's strides beneath sunburnt skies, his jog becomes a rapturous vision of mobility amid gridlock, the only guy in sight who isn't running on empty.

Movement is the organizing principle of Licorice Pizza. Characters are always in a hurry to get somewhere, even when they're traveling backward. In the spirit of its '70s setting and aesthetics, the movie climaxes with a set piece involving a U-Haul truck being piloted in reverse down winding, perilous Hollywood Hills streets. The driver is Gary's 20-something friend-slash-chaperone-slash-no.-1-crush Alana (Alana Haim), who's got a firm hand and wild eyes; the chaotic vehicular choreography at once parodies and honors period car chases in comedies like The Sugarland Express or Smokey and the Bandit. Because Licorice Pizza is set in the shadow of Hollywood—specifically in the industry hive of Studio City in the southeast San Fernando Valley, long since mythologized as Anderson's childhood stomping grounds—it's hard not to conjure up cinematic reference points to contextualize its drifty narrative about the exposed nerves, hot flashes, and crossed wires of young(ish) love. For reasons too convoluted to get into here, Gary and Alana's nerve-racking joyride includes an extended and menacing cameo from the legendary (and legendarily obnoxious) movie producer Jon Peters, impersonated with kamikaze aplomb by a well-cast and zero-fucks-given Bradley Cooper.

No less than all that frenetic running—through playgrounds, shopping malls, police stations, and golf courses—the numerous dream-factory allusions of Licorice Pizza place it squarely in PTA's comfort zone. Anderson wasn't a child star like Gary, who as the film opens is promoting a broad family comedy modeled on the 1968 Lucille Ball vehicle Yours, Mine and Ours—a nod to the early career experiences of the director's friend, film producer Gary Goetzman. ("I can't remember at this point if I'm trying to pretend that it's not Gary's story," Anderson told Variety, "but fuck it, it's him.") But like Goetzman, Anderson grew up in close proximity to showbiz types, and the same sense of striving anxiety and status-seeking that bristled beneath the surfaces of Boogie Nights and Magnolia is in play here.

With this in mind, there are times when Licorice Pizza almost feels like a highlight reel of PTA's greatest tropes and moments—a victory lap around home turf. The dateline places it chronologically between Inherent Vice and Boogie Nights, which is also a pretty good description of its tone: warm, nostalgic, and only faintly paranoid (Cooper's nervy, obnoxious performance recalls Alfred Molina's coked-out millionaire in Boogie Nights, minus the sense of lethal threat). With its sweaty, hothouse color palette and sculptural use of natural California light and haze (the cinematography is credited to Anderson and Michael Bauman), it feels as if the breathtaking, tactile flashback in Inherent Vice when Joaquin Phoenix and Katherine Waterston make out in the rain to Neil Young's "Journey Through the Past" has been extended to two hours. And after the masterful but claustrophobic chamber drama of Phantom Thread, the loose, playful vibe suggests a filmmaker enjoying being able to make work fully on his own terms.

In the press rollout for Licorice Pizza, Anderson has made it clear that those terms are very personal, and the contrasts between his film with a similarly themed blockbuster like Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood are palpable. Any movie stars on hand here are in the margins; the leads are both first-timers carrying baggage from their own surnames. Hoffman and Haim are both family friends: The latter's mother was Anderson's childhood art teacher, which turned out to be the detail that cemented Anderson's professional and personal relationship with her sisters and their band. The production was shot under a veil of COVID-era secrecy. At the same time, there's something open-hearted about the feeling that the filmmaker is circling the wagons and working close to home. "When I came to visit the set, and learned that all his kids were in the movie, and that you would be in it, it felt like he'd decided to say, 'Fuck it, this is the truth about me,'" said John C. Reilly in a recent interview with Alana Haim, referring to Anderson's long-held preference to be "the mysterious wizard behind the curtain," which was the satirical subject of Phantom Thread.

Because we're in a moment when movies are treated like scorecards for moral inventory, Licorice Pizza's rollout has been dogged by social media skirmishes over the problematic aspects of its central love story—concerns that Anderson has paid lip service in interviews. "Do you think it's weird that I hang out with Gary and his loser friends?" Alana asks one of her peers, and while an answer isn't forthcoming, it also isn't really required. Of course it's weird that Alana, who's a decade beyond high school and staring down her 30th birthday, is playing Wendy to a tribe of lost teenage boys, and the film's repeated visualizations of characters—especially Alana—hurtling hellbent in one direction or another belie communal anxieties about which way they're all headed.

What attracts Alana to Gary is the swaggering contradiction of a kid who makes a living playing prepubescents on television while projecting a swinging-bachelor vibe well beyond his years off screen. ("Two Cokes, please," he lobbies a bartender at the Tail o' the Cock, like Bart Simpson ordering three fingers of milk from his mom.) She can't tell whether he's ridiculous or charming, but the confusion is more interesting than anything else going on in her life, and gradually, her curiosity metastasizes into a fierce, ambivalent devotion with quasi-incestuous subtext. ("Don't you dare get into that car," she chides him at one point, sounding distressingly like his mother.) Gary, meanwhile, is crushing on Alana because, on a purely abstract level, she represents a sort of holy grail—a lanky, experienced older woman whose inaccessibility offers the thrill of the chase. And yet she's not necessarily out of his grasp; in a wonderful sequence involving a silent late-night phone call in which neither party wants to speak first, it's clear they're on the same wavelength. What bonds them beyond the butterflies in their stomachs is the pleasure they take in feeling like they're getting away with something—a pleasure that Anderson, whose movies are characteristically filled with confident men, charlatans, and start-up entrepreneurs, romanticizes with easy charm.

Back when Rysher Entertainment insisted on retitling Anderson's debut, Sydney, as Hard Eight, the director joked that the name "sounded like a porno." The original title for Licorice Pizza was Soggy Bottom, which refers literally to the fly-by-night waterbed business that turns Gary and Alana into business partners and figuratively to the horned-up vibes that leave nearly every scene coated in a sticky residue of desire. If there's something inevitably moving about watching Philip Seymour Hoffman's kid play a self-styled Mattress Man, there's also a bit of Punch-Drunk Love's deadpan surrealism in the idea that a 15-year-old could manage a store like that fueled only by pure, hustling chutzpah. The film is set in a world where adults barely exist, and the grown-ups who do get face time—like the arrogant, sexually proprietary Peters, who brags about banging Barbra Streisand, or Sean Penn as a lecherous and barely disguised stand-in for William Holden—are depicted as predatory creeps. The same frustration with her own stalled present tense that draws Alana to Gary is also what pushes her toward Penn's lizardly movie star in a subplot about her attempts to become an actress. (The movie she auditions for, a hippie-chick romance called Rainbow, riffs on Clint Eastwood's Breezy.) But Penn's character, who knows his way around the casting couch, is chasing a different kind of teenage glory, and ends up ditching his date in lieu of doing motorcycle tricks—an explicit callback to The Master in a sequence that has a slapstick punch line and a hopelessly romantic coda that finds Gary and Alana splayed out together on a bobbing waterbed, hands almost but not quite touching as Anderson keeps delaying the moment of release.

Because Licorice Pizza is so light and freewheeling, there's a temptation to praise it—or write it off—as an auteurist doodle, but the seams between the scenes are teeming with political critique. Whether flipping through the newspaper or glancing at televisions blaring speeches by a pre-impeachment Richard Nixon about the floundering American economy, Gary and Alana commiserate in a sense of shared alienation that ultimately begins to pull them apart. Where Gary is content to luxuriate during a crisis of authority, Alana refuses to stay stuck in neutral, and, disillusioned by dating, decides to jump-start her own idling social conscience. The last act of the movie is set in and around the mayoral campaign of a young, skilled, ostensibly progressive Valley politician (played by Uncut Gems codirector Benny Safdie) and evokes period political dramas like The Candidate, with a little bit of Taxi Driver and Nashville sprinkled in.

Because Anderson has historically structured his movies around eruptive outbursts of violence—think of the New Year's Eve party in Boogie Nights or the titular prophecy of There Will Be Blood—we're preconditioned to worry about what might happen to Alana as the collateral damage of her ideological awakening, or else to anticipate a detour into SoCal civic corruption, à la Chinatown. But when the film shows its cards, the revelations are less terrifying than tender—a melancholy variation on Anderson's running theme of wounded masculinity that also confirms Licorice Pizza as a movie propelled by fears of compromise.

The not-so-secret source of Anderson's heroic stature in the eyes of so many has been a refusal to compromise. When he sent a copy of Hard Eight to Cannes behind his distributor's back to ensure that his preferred cut would be the one seen by critics, the 26-year-old director was prematurely throwing his hat in the ring with the Coppolas and Ciminos of the Movie Brat generation. That kind of stubborness makes for good copy—and good movies—but a case can be made that PTA's movies got even better once it was clear that he wasn't so much pushing against something as toward something. What makes The Master one of the only truly visionary American movies of its era is the confidence it takes in being discombobulating—in reconfiguring a deep and existential sense of confusion from a bug into a feature. Phantom Thread is a beguiling and phantasmagorical gloss on Gothic romance pitched just this side of madness, and yet its status as a kind of social-media meme monster is due to how closely it hews to sketch comedy; the scene when Alma feeds Reynolds the poisoned omelette and leans in for a kiss just before he starts puking up his guts splits the difference between Hitchcock and the Farrelly brothers. It's in refusing to choose between severity and goofiness that Anderson ends up with films that cut both ways—and draw blood in the process.

Licorice Pizza doesn't show its teeth that often, and when it does, it's usually in the form of a grin. While neophytes Hoffman and Haim aren't as polished as actors like Vicky Krieps or [checks notes] Daniel Day-Lewis, they have great, malleable faces, and Anderson likes nothing more than to hold on them until they light up. But like all premium teen movies—from American Graffiti to Fast Times at Ridgemont High to Dazed and Confused—a lot of what's funny in Licorice Pizza comes from how seriously its characters take themselves and their feelings, while whatever's profound accumulates in throwaway moments. A shot of Gary and his pals pantomiming masturbation with empty gas cans works as a tender metaphor because it's seen from Alana's point of view, engendering the realization that this kind of boys-will-be-boys stupidity is actually more innocent and unguarded about its impulses than the world of smooth operators waiting on the other end of adolescence. And that image of Gary's fingers creeping toward Alana's but holding back becomes a humane, relatable emblem of temptation—of the things that hold us back, of longing as its own state of grace.

Because Licorice Pizza doesn't really have a plot, there's no way to really spoil its finale, but it's enough to say that the final moments—featuring, once again, characters breaking out into a dead run—are flush with the same conflicting yet complementary sensations of arrival and departure as the codas of Punch-Drunk Love, Inherent Vice, or Phantom Thread. In the space of a single image, the characters are lost and found all at once. What makes it such a good ending—one of Anderson's best—is that it makes uncertainty feel like its own kind of homecoming.


I found her analysis interesting.

QuoteLicorice Pizza proves Paul Thomas Anderson is a master of unexpected romance
There's more to it than swoony love in his films — including this one.

Spoiler: ShowHide
QuoteMemorable images abound in Paul Thomas Anderson's movies — frogs dropping from the sky in Magnolia, Adam Sandler stockpiling pudding cups in Punch-Drunk Love, Bradley Cooper yelling in his latest, Licorice Pizza — but the scenes that stick with me most crackle with electric connection between two weirdos who've spotted, at last, their match.

Like Emily Watson telling Sandler, ecstatically, that "I want to chew your face, and I want to scoop out your eyes and I want to eat them and chew them and suck on them." John C. Reilly and Melora Walters in Magnolia confessing to one another that they're afraid if the other knows them, they won't like them. Joaquin Phoenix intently listening as Philip Seymour Hoffman, the leader of a cult in The Master, tells the group that "when we're in love we experience pleasure, and extreme pain." A much younger, sweatier Hoffman eyeing new adult film star Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights and struggling to contain his desire. Clean-shaven Daniel Day-Lewis watching with hungry eyes as Vicky Krieps makes him a poisonous mushroom omelet in Phantom Thread. Even mustachioed Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood hurling bowling balls at his nemesis, Paul Dano, in his absurd private bowling alley, hollering about drinking his milkshake.

You could cut the tension with a hacksaw in every scene, and dozens of others, and yet you couldn't easily describe what's going on. Hate? Lust? Yearning? Envy? Love? The characters don't know either, but they'll spend the whole movie trying to figure it out, and so will we.

Anderson makes romances, even when they're not exactly romantic; he's always looking for what connects two people with a bond that seems etched by fate. There's always something wild and untamable and unnerving in his pairings. They're never quite what you expect. They explode the narrow borders we draw around the definition of romance.

It's why Licorice Pizza, his latest, feels so assured and confident, so perfectly notched into his filmography. This time the pair at its center is young, though not exactly carefree. Alana Kane (Alana Haim, of the band Haim, who is perfect) is a photo assistant in her mid-20s living in the San Fernando Valley with her parents and older sisters, all of whom have experienced failure to launch. (They're played by the whole Haim family.) It's 1971, and everything from the Vietnam War to mounting gasoline shortages looms in the background, but mostly Alana's just bored.

Disaffected and having no idea what she wants from life, Alana is drawn into a strange friendship — a romance, kind of — with Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour Hoffman), a teenager who has the world by the tail. Or, at least, he acts like it. He's an actor who's booked some mid-level gigs; he talks like he's 40; he's always coming up with some new business to run. He, of course, lives with his mother (Mary Elizabeth Ellis).

Gary spots Alana in line on school picture day and asks her out. When she scoffs at the notion — she is, after all, technically an adult, 10 years older than him, and he's technically a child — he doesn't give up. Through some conniving on Gary's part, and surrender to the inevitable and a growing curiosity on Alana's, they become not a couple, but friends. Gary's constantly asking Alana for more, with the eagerness only a teenage boy can muster. A master of the devastating eye roll, she looks like she wants to punch him all the time, but she does like his company. Something about hanging out with him and his friends invigorates her and reminds her of ... what? She doesn't even know. But it's been a long time since she's smiled.

That push and pull between them leads them on all kinds of adventures, backed by the kind of soundtrack you've got to dance to and shot with the shaggy, grainy looseness that richly demonstrates Anderson's ease with films of the era. Gary starts a waterbed company and gets Alana on board (after all, she has a driver's license). They have a wild night on the town with director Jack Holden (Sean Penn) and daredevil Rex Blau (Tom Waits) in which they realize they've got to protect one another. The greatest and most memorable scene happens when they have to bring a waterbed to the home of Jon Peters (a gonzo Bradley Cooper) — who in real life was a film producer, Barbra Streisand's boyfriend, and the inspiration for the movie Shampoo — and run into hilarious trouble with, well, everything.

Strife and frustration with one another drive them apart. But when Alana brushes up against the reality of adulthood while working on the mayoral campaign of the idealistic Joel Wachs (Benny Safdie), it's clarifying, for both Alana and for the movie. Licorice Pizza (named for a series of record shops in LA at the time) is about a couple of young people who may or may not be in love but certainly love one another. It's also about how much adulthood sucks, and about a girl who can't quite bring herself to wade into those waters, not yet.

And it's all set in a Los Angeles that's sitting right on a fault line, a mere two years after the Manson murders famously rocked the city's glitterati and in the midst of an upheaval in the movie business, which was getting busted open by independent filmmakers. Everything was changing, and not everyone was ready.

Anderson has said he based the film on his own memories (though he's younger than his characters, born in 1970) and on the experiences of real-life actor Gary Goetzman, who among other things co-founded Playtone with Tom Hanks. You can tell; the film, which is structured as a series of set pieces that Alana and Gary stumble into and out of, is far too strange and specific and sometimes cringey to simply be made up, even by someone with as fertile an imagination as Anderson.

But, of course, he's treading familiar ground. This is a romance. The key ingredients are all there. We're used to thinking of romance in terms of moony lovey-dovey smooches, longing sighs, stolen glances, maybe passionate romps in the hay. But in Anderson's vocabulary, the word is more capacious. In his worlds, a romance springs up between two people who cross one another's eyeline and instantly recognize that something they're missing, something they need to survive — a comforter, a cheerleader, a lover, a nemesis — is right in front of them.

Those are never uncomplicated romances, and they're always backed, not (always) by sex, but by the desire to keep the thread that ties one to the other intact. In his past films, some manifest as outright antagonism — you're never quite sure if Daniel and Eli or Freddie and Dodd will kiss or kill one another. Others come in terms that are sweeter, but always laced with danger; a mushroom omelet is never just a mushroom omelet.

In the case of Licorice Pizza, the central (and fundamentally goofily chaste) romance is about feeling safe in the middle of a world that seems to be barreling downhill backward into madness. It's about knowing someone really sees you and likes you, even loves you, anyhow.


Quote from: pynchonikon on November 26, 2021, 08:05:25 AM
Apparently Nayman said "fuck it" and wrote a whole new chapter for his book instead of a review.

I think this is the smartest review/musing on LP I've read to date.  Got all the way to the bottom before I realized it was Nayman.  Liked the New Yorker review, too.


Quote from: pynchonikon on November 26, 2021, 09:00:16 AM

I found her analysis interesting.

Yes, also excellent.   I love how intelligent people are actually seeing, understanding that the relationship--the connection--between Gary and Alana isn't pervy or predatory.

Unfortunately these takes will never reach those who will only ever see it in more absolute, reductionist terms.


More interesting analysis:

Quote[Alana's] roundabout personal track dictates the episodic hangout format this film takes, the clearest sign of Anderson's relaxed vibe. (As my colleague Tim Grierson has noted, switching from cocaine to marijuana may have something to do with this shift into a relatively chilled-out mode.) For followers of his career trajectory, it's deeply rewarding to see someone whose work has always been marked by some inner torment taking it easier on himself and his characters. He seizes the tale of Gary and Alana as an opportunity to indulge in his favorite habits: curating a soundtrack of off-the-beaten-path oldies, exploring the halcyon LA of his boyhood dreams, setting up elaborate dolly shots in the way ordinary folks solve crossword puzzles. There's been a palpable pleasure to every movie PTA's ever made, his flashy, immodest style ensuring that much. But in the past, it's felt like the man makes his movies because he'll die if he doesn't get all of this urgent, burning stuff out of him; here, one gets the impression he's simply enjoying himself.

The more of a single director's movies a person watches, the more inclined they are to divine some insights about the artist's personal life from the stories they choose to tell and the way in which they tell them. Licorice Pizza suggests a PTA not in decline, but recline, allowing himself to relax in tone while maintaining his aesthetic rigor and slavish attention to detail. Unburdened by his distance to youth, wistful about its joys while clear-eyed about its foolishness, he's made as graceful an entree to middle age as anyone can hope for. This is his "those crazy kids" movie, made in the knowledge that the phrase comes from a place of affectionate contentment. Behind each scene, there's a smile and a shake of the head — an acceptance that the good times are behind us, and that that's a fine place for them to be.


For as much as I loved the stuff with the two youthful leads, I think my favorite part of the movie was when Sean Penn and Tom Waits were playing two old macho drunken jackasses.


Bradley, Harriet, Sean & Tom really almost steal the movie. 


Quote from: Pringle on November 26, 2021, 12:32:50 PM
For as much as I loved the stuff with the two youthful leads, I think my favorite part of the movie was when Sean Penn and Tom Waits were playing two old macho drunken jackasses.

Waits' entrance is priceless.

Spoiler: ShowHide
"You shiny, gold, tall, inexpensive prick!!!"

max from fearless

Can anyone pls copy and post the NYTimes Dargis review? - This paywall got me locked out! Exciting seeing the reviews go up all over Letterboxd and the queues around the cinema!


'Licorice Pizza' Review: California Dreaming and Scheming
Manohla Dargis

"Licorice Pizza," a shaggy, fitfully brilliant romp from Paul Thomas Anderson, takes place in a 1973 dream of bared midriffs and swinging hair, failures and pretenders. It's set in Encino, a Los Angeles outpost in the shadow of Hollywood and the birthplace of such films as "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Boogie Nights," Anderson's 1997 breakout about a striver's passage into pornographic stardom. There's DNA from both old and New Hollywood in "Licorice Pizza," a coming-of-age romance in which no one grows up.

The film's improbable teenage hero is Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour Hoffman), another classic striver. A child performer who's hit maximum adolescent awkwardness, Gary is 15 and aging out of his professional niche. He still performs, but has started to diversify. Yet even as he embraces uncertain new ventures, his faith in himself remains steady, keeping his smile lit and smooth talk oozing. Deranged optimism and self-importance are American birthrights, and if his confidence weren't so poignantly outsized — and if Anderson were in a tougher mood — Gary would be a figure of tragedy rather than of comedy.

Anderson always maintains a level of detachment toward his characters, letting you see their unembellished flaws, both insignificant and defining. He loves them with the prerogative of any director. But his love for Gary is special, as lavish as that of an indulgent parent, and his affection for the character is of a piece of the soft nostalgic glow he pumps into "Licorice Pizza," blunting its edges and limiting the film's overall effect. The gap between what you see in Gary and what he sees in himself makes the character hard to get a handle on, and more interesting. Gary blunders and bluffs, finding success and defeat, fueled by a braggadocio that, much like one of the earthquake faults running under the city, threatens to bring the whole thing tumbling down at any moment.

This instability suits the freewheeling, episodic structure, even if Gary wears out his welcome. The film opens on a school picture day with high-school boys preening in a bathroom and lines of students snaking outside. An amusingly portentous cherry bomb explodes in a toilet and before long Gary is ogling Alana (Alana Haim, the rock musician), an assistant for a creep who's taking the kids' pictures. The photographer slaps her ass. Gary is more of a romantic. He's knocked out by Alana, instantly smitten, a thunderbolt moment that Anderson memorializes with a prodigious tracking shot that gets both the camera and the story's juices going. Gary has met the girl he's going to marry even if she doesn't know it.

Anderson keeps the camera and characters beautifully flowing through minor and major adventures of varying interest. Most of these are inaugurated by Gary's entrepreneurial hustling, which takes him all over the nabe and sometimes beyond. He dips into bars and restaurants, shops and audition rooms, and belts out a tune in a show where he upstages a cruelly funny stand-in for Lucille Ball (Christine Ebersole), who threatens to castrate him (not really, but the rage is real). He jousts with his enemy (Skyler Gisondo), a wee smoothie who slides in like Dean Martin in his cups, which is as sleazy and silly as it sounds. Gary also gets busted, starts a few businesses, runs from the law and into Alana's arms, which remain as dependably open as a late-night diner.

"Licorice Pizza" has its seductions, most notably Alana. She's a fabulous creation, at once down-to-earth real as a friend who grew up in the Valley and as fantastical as a Hollywood dream girl. When Alana first walks through Gary's school, Anderson makes sure to show her in long shot, head to toe, exasperated and slumped, hair and miniskirt gently in sync. This is Haim's first movie but she has a seasoned performer's presence and physical assurance. Her expressive range — her face drains and fills as effortlessly as if she were handling a water tap — and humanizing lack of vanity are crucial, partly because she's a delight to watch and because Hoffman is a frustratingly limited foil.

For reasons that only she knows, Alana agrees to go out with Gary, initiating a relationship that makes no sense but one that Anderson certainly enjoys. She's about 10 years older than Gary, maybe more. He's big for his age and taller than her, and with his swagger and belly bulging over his belt, you can already see the used car salesman he might one day become. But right now he's a kid. "Do you think it's weird," Alana asks a friend, while smoking a joint, "that I hang out with Gary and his friends all the time?" Alana says she think it's weird (it is), but what she believes doesn't have much bearing on the story and she continually bends to suit Gary's needs as well as Anderson's, which don't include psychological realism.

Anderson asks a lot of Haim: He makes sure we see her nipples at full mast under her shirt and parades her around in a bikini when everyone else is dressed. These moments are in line with some of the more flagrantly obnoxious stereotypes that he folds in, just like a studio hack might have done back in the day while having a witless chuckle. There's a sycophantic assistant who's a mincing cliché, and the white owner of a Japanese restaurant who speaks in broken English. Anderson deploys these stereotypes without editorializing, which is a commentary on their use, and just enough timing and attention to make it clear that he's enjoying tweaking contemporary sensibilities.

These moments are cheap and stupid and add nothing to a movie that throws out a great deal to alternating scattershot and lasered effect: the OPEC oil crisis, water beds, the silhouette of palm trees against a night sky and the kind of stars who no longer shine bright. One of the recurrent beats that Anderson hits best in "Licorice Pizza" is what it's like to live in a company town like Los Angeles, where everyone is in the business, seems to be, or wants to be, and so keeps hanging on to Hollywood and its promise, whether it's Gary or the faded and midlevel stars idling in the neighborhood joint. There, Sean Penn roars in as a old-studio lush as Tom Waits and other pals grin on the sidelines.

Throughout, Alana keeps fuming and blazing, steadily lighting up Gary and the film as brightly as Fourth of July fireworks, even as the story slides here and there, and gathers and loses momentum. The movie doesn't always know what to do with Alana other than dog after her, and it's a particular bummer that while Anderson makes her an object of love and lust, he shortchanges her sexual desire. Alana may be lost, but she isn't dead, quite the reverse. She's a woman who's alive to the world and aware of her own attraction. But she's a blank libidinally, as virginal and safe as a teen-comedy heroine. She doesn't even ask Gary to pleasure her, not that he would know what to do.

Alana deserves better, dammit! Everyone knows it (OK, not Gary) even the Hollywood producer based on the real Jon Peters (a sensational Bradley Cooper) knows it. Resplendently fuzzed, a white shirt framing his chest hair, a kilo of coke (probably) up his nose, Peters appears after Gary starts a water bed company. The business is a long, not especially good story, but Peters, who's dating Barbra Streisand, wants a bed and he wants it now. This initiates a tour de force sequence in which Alana, who's helping Gary run things, natch, takes the wheel of a monstrous moving truck. She's a natural, a genius, Streisand, Andretti, a California goddess, and, as she brakes and slows and goes, Alana gives you a vision of perfection and "Licorice Pizza" the driver it needs.


Just got back from my third viewing. Just keeps getting better for me.

I noticed Sam Harpoon was listed in the credits but didn't see who was the credited actor.

Did anyone manage to catch that?


The only new credit I caught this time is that the Ed Sullivan substitute is played by Goetzman.   (And I mentioned that Alana's photographer boss is First A.D. Adam Somner, yes?)


Quote from: wilberfan on November 26, 2021, 09:27:46 PM
The only new credit I caught this time is that the Ed Sullivan substitute is played by Goetzman.   

Hey that's a nice catch.