Licorice Pizza - SPOILERS!

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

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Maybe someone can confirm:  My understanding is that the crowd in the lower-left are each of the department heads.  Standard procedure in a setting like this on most film sets?


'Licorice Pizza' Pulls a Magic Eyes Trick on Entitled Idiots

Licorice Pizza is a gaudy parade of rich white privileged shits of the type Paul Thomas Anderson tends to focus on. They're his people.

When I saw the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski (1996) in a theatre, and when I'd finished laughing, it struck me as a film that's constructed around the thesis that American political polarities have stagnated since Vietnam and are doomed to express themselves fruitlessly in new ill-fitting iterations like the First Gulf War. In addition to this theme, The Big Lebowski constructs its narrative to convey an idea so rare in American films that we virtually never see it expressed.

That message: Violence doesn't solve problems but creates new ones. In cinema and politics, this is so anathema to US mythology that viewers couldn't recognize the idea. Many found The Big Lebowski strange and lopsided, full of irrelevant digressions. They had trouble "getting it".

I feel a similarly strange recognition of Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza, which I've just watched on DVD. Licorice Pizza is constructed as a series of anecdotes to demonstrate a message virtually never seen in US films: that rich white privilege is poisonous and inherent in the film's social landscape. This message runs so counter to what we expect of Hollywood cinema that it must be hard to recognize, especially in a film that it's easier trying to peg with those handy marketing labels as "fun", "nostalgic" or "romantic comedy".

Licorice Pizza is inspired by actor/producer/entrepreneur Gary Goetzman, who filled the ear of Paul Thomas Anderson with rich material about growing up in privileged 1970s California. Most characters are based on real people known to Goetzman (renamed Gary Valentine in the film). The film often uses their real names: restaurateur Jerry Frick, producer Jon Peters, politician Joel Wachs. Disguised flimsily in pseudonyms are characters based on Lucille Ball (because rich narcissistic, entitled assholes may be female) and William Holden.

Anderson is aware of the seductive allure of great music and exhilarating camera moves, so he strews every scene with anti-nostalgic landmines like Mad Men to warn us: Don't get too comfortable. Every sequence is marked by the tension between this seduction (by America, by masculinity, by movies, by pop culture) and the continual douse with cold water. Such is the story's defining structure and its emotional drive.

Licorice Pizza's opening scene introduces our main characters, Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffmann), in sweepingly elaborate tracking shots in which the immature high school male comes on like a confident squirt to the stagnated and floundering female in her 20s. The sequence is scored with the magnificent voice of Nina Simone as the last dreamy shot is timed to end perfectly with the song's end.

Except as we're thinking, "what a great shot," it ends with rude punctuation: a proprietorial slap on Alana's rear by her photographer boss. This jarring moment finishes the "romantic" and "nostalgic" scene on an unexpected sour note. How does Alana react? With outrage like one of today's properly enlightened heroines? She doesn't respond at all. Her inaction indicates that it has happened before and takes it with the territory of her life, a part of the job. This is Licorice Pizza's first rude wake-up: Don't be lulled by this time, place, and people. This isn't the seductive good time it looks.

Gary does biz with Jerry Frick, a white entrepreneur of Japanese restaurants who says, "We're Japanese." We receive a sense of his appropriating Japanese culture and stereotypical schtick or kitsch to make money. It's also a paradigm of the postwar conqueror/patronage dynamic as entrepreneurs began spreading their versions of Asian culture to white Americans. Such is the American way, and we're so used to it that we may fail to think about it.

The man's two Japanese (mail-order?) wives are bothered by his behavior, which he fancies funny and clever, and other troubling matters. The first wife complains about his restaurant ads emphasizing "doll-like waitresses" instead of the food. We may intuit that she dumps him and he replaces her promptly with a doppelganger. (Apparently, this happened with the real-life Frick, both Japanese wives divorced him.) Nobody else in the room utters a peep because they're all making money off him. That's exactly how and why such entitled jerks continued on their merry way in that time and place. As with the other scenes, the fact that this guy's presented as a comic idiot doesn't make him less annoying.

I find it revealing that some viewers singled out this example as unacceptable and offensive while missing all the other cartoonishly entitled white, rich idiots who structure the entire plot. Do they take for granted all that other stuff is bad behavior, or don't they notice? Or did it just not bother them? The man's behavior isn't only racist but profoundly sexist, although fewer people charged to the ramparts over that. (Hmm.) My cynical inner pratt wants to say, "Thanks for declaring your offense at something meant to offend you. You must be a sensitive person if only you gave credit to the movie for your reaction instead of blaming the messenger."

My preening irony aside, I'm sympathetic to the protesters' POV because everyone's been rigorously trained by Hollywood to understand a "movie" as something constructed by committee to patronize 13-year-olds. Every permissible emotional response must be carefully cued and underlined, the better to validate complacency and ensure the slow kids in the back are getting it: "Yes, this is what you're supposed to think, you clever ticket buyer." Above all, any bumps or jarring notes to the good time must be rigorously weeded to encourage the smooth digestion of popcorn. The "entertainment" industry grooms us to take mere movies much less seriously as statements of how we live.

Critics complain about this now and then to make themselves sound smarter than the average bear. Then comes one of the rare people who make films assuming that their audience is as smart as themselves, even without flattering us, and that viewers can be trusted to rise to the film's level by paying attention and figuring out why disturbing elements are there. Then comes the test.

Those complaining folks are right: that's racist and sexist behavior they're seeing. They pegged it. With unconscious irony, those who seek to have their emotions validated have indicated that they'd prefer a film that "whitewashed" the era's dynamics (rich white guys are the princes they think they are!) or presented them dishonestly (as with an on-screen cue of modern criticism), or avoided them because such a false image would avoid hurt feelings. Well, we get the films we deserve, and there's a whole commercial juggernaut turning out those validations for your entertainment dollar and the desire to play in China.

For the record, I don't assume there's a monolithic "Asian" response to Licorice Pizza. I'm interested in the responses in Japan or among Nisei women of that generation, and I found English-language Google unequipped to help me with that. I looked in vain for interviews with actors Yumi Mizui and Megumi Anjo on how they perceive their scenes and what Anderson discussed with them. Did they think the scenes went too far or not far enough? What do they think of calls to boycott awards for their work?

Anderson's mother-in-law is a famous Japanese singer. I'm curious to hear her perspective on Licorice Pizza instead of other people's perspectives on her. Had she written those scenes, might they have been less vicious or more? Maybe he should have asked her to do it.

Here's an idea for a social experiment: Show these scenes to a test audience and explain them as clips from the latest Chloe Zhao film. Ask the viewers if the scenes go too far in depicting patronizing white guys in the 1970s. How many would say, "Right on, sister!" or encourage it to go farther? What we see is based on our knowledge, baggage, interpretations, and projections. I'm no less guilty.

My googling revealed threads where self-identified Asians express all kinds of opinions about Licorice Pizza, enough to erase any monolithic impression. Still, I'm struck that many of these people aren't Japanese, and I observe delicately that a multiplicity of Asian nationalities speaking on behalf of "Asians" implies an interchangeability that echoes the restaurateur's changing of wives, and surely that's not desirable. Each opinion must be understood to reflect that individual's experience, perceptions, and responses, all of which exist.

To name a prominent example among critics, Justin Chang's review in the Los Angeles Times, "Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Licorice Pizza' is a valentine to the Valley. And Alana Haim" (15 November 2021) off-handedly dismisses the "strenuous nonsense" of the Japanese scenes while he otherwise raves about it as one of the year's best. He doesn't see Licorice Pizza as a strongly negative depiction of its context, although he certainly doesn't see it as a whitewash. I might be the only person who sees it as a consistently negative critique beneath the needle-drops, and that's why I'm documenting my reaction. As we say, your mileage may vary.

I admit I haven't methodically canvased every review, but I sense that the film's admirers don't see it as an overall negative worldview or at most as flavored with negativity. In contrast, I see a critique from beginning to end, a film where Anderson continually pops the bubble. I don't know how "consciously" or "instinctively" he constructed this, perhaps one more than the other, but I find a consistent pattern, and I assume I'm meant to find it.

Although I think most complaints about the two Japanese scenes are unsophisticated, I understand that some people may find my view unsophisticated: that if the point of your scene is "this guy's a racist, sexist jerk", you should show him as a racist, sexist jerk.I see how Licorice Pizza could easily have dispensed with the Japanese scenes, as so many people wish, and it wouldn't be worse. I also see how the scenes fit the film's parade of how entitled rich white jerks treat women, children, and minorities. Anderson methodically checks every box of rich white jerkhood: arrogance and ego, racism and sexism, hypocrisy and dishonesty, abuse of power, and violence and danger. These elements are embedded in politics, economics, and personal relations. Why leave out racism? Why should that guy have escaped the general arraignment of entitled assholes, none of whom ever gets punished? No white saviors in these rooms.

I've now devoted half this article to these scenes, which occupy a few minutes of screen time, and that's good because these scenes reflect the entire film in miniature, as I'm now illustrating. To continue with what happens in Licorice Pizza, the "Lucy" scene presents the beloved star as an angry, foul-mouthed, self-absorbed female putz around children, using them as ornaments to herself and not caring what they or their parents hear.

This is where Alana meets a smoother, more handsome, more confident rival to Paul and brings him home to meet her folks. He washes out by announcing his atheism to this more orthodox Jewish family. Of course, there are Jewish atheists, but Alana's angry reaction interprets his atheism as a denial of being Jewish, a way to get around it instead of admitting who you are. ("We're Japanese," says the white jerk.) Keep that in mind, for it's crucial to the Licorice Pizza's climax.

Suddenly two outright fascist white cops grab Gary and terrorize him as they drag him off without reading his rights or explaining what's going on, nor do they later apologize or admit being wrong. It's a downright alarming glimpse of the police state in sunny California. Does anyone cry "police brutality" and call their lawyer? Heck no. They'd get the hell beat out of them. Gary is glad to run away and forget his fear and humiliation as though it never happened. He takes it. This is his country. He moves on to the next setpiece and forgets it, and apparently, most viewers do too.

Another real-life character, a talent agent named Mary Grady, advises Alana to agree to nudity and praises her Jewish nose, which is in demand right now. This was the era of Barbra Streisand, who made waves by refusing to have plastic surgery, and she will be name-dropped later.

At a reading for Clint Eastwood's 1973 film Breezy, the "William Holden" avatar comes on to Alana with transparent ooze, and she's flattered and dazzled – a famous star being nice to me! He sweeps her to a restaurant (Tail o' the Cock!), where things quickly go south as he and a buddy commandeer the room for a drunken display of macho bullshit that once again has repercussions on Alana's tail – thump! The whole restaurant becomes a cheering section at being allowed to spectate a famous actor make a fool of himself while she's forgotten as collateral damage. Again, not a peep. This is America. Women and Jews and Asians and gay men are there to decorate and service the real stars.

Streisand is mentioned in the Jon Peters scene ("Do you know who my girlfriend is?"), which can only be described as a psychotic display of entitled behavior and the one where Gary decides on childish "revenge" for a threat to his brother's life. Peters has a gay assistant who radiates the wish to be somewhere else, not unlike the Japanese wives. The whole sequence involves pumping various fluids, either oil or water, into other things, and I'll leave that to simmer. Peters looks like an Elvis impersonator, so we get multiple symbolic references.

This segment culminates in a metaphor: Alana's saddled with driving an out-of-control truck (symbol of masculinity) backward – shades of Ginger Rogers' famous remark that she had to dance as well as Fred Astaire only backward and in high heels. While the knocked-about boys celebrate this bitchen exploit, Alana nearly collapses as she sees them for what they are: irresponsible young idiots she's hanging out with for inexplicable reasons. An uneasy apprehension begins to emerge: No matter how old they are, they'll always be much more immature and idiotic than she is.

That's when Alana decides to become a serious grown-up. She signs up to help Joel Wachs, a real-life mayoral candidate of appropriate age – except that he wants to appropriate her as a "beard" for his closeted life, not unlike how the "Japanese" restaurateur appropriates his "doll" wives for that dash of authenticity, not unlike how that nose can help you right now for cosmetic authenticity if you'll also flash your boobs. Alana's hit between the eyes, or on the nose, with the revelation spelled out bluntly as a climactic epiphany in her conversation with Matthew (Joseph Cross), Joel's boyfriend:

Matthew: "Do you have a boyfriend?"

Alana: "I don't know."

Matthew: "Is he a shit?"

Alana: "Yes." You can see it clicking in her head.

Matthew: "They're all shits, aren't they?"

Now here's Licorice Pizza's "privileged" moment, its scene of richest connection between two humans. The message can't possibly be thrown in our faces more bluntly, just as each scene I describe throws it bluntly, and Alana has witnessed every single example. So why do so many people miss it? I think it's because people filter out what they can't process. Many noticed the Asian racism and yelped when they felt bit, while the rest of it passed by unexamined. Others didn't notice or process racism as a seriously intended element in Licorice Pizza.

This is a message that I fancy the vast majority of American filmgoers aren't ready to process – that those privileged rich boys (and girls) in charge, the stars who dominate our heavens and our politics and our businesses and oil embargoes and international fiascos and movies, are all shits, aren't they? Our Valentine hero is no exception. The dots are connected from one "digression" to the next. Licorice Pizza is a gaudy parade of rich white privileged shits of the type Anderson tends to focus on in all his films, and he displays them knowingly, from the inside. They're his people.

The application of this message seems to be: If you expect to break out of the cocoon or your 20s inertia and move forward, you'd better process that message. It's all around you, like those long gasoline lines you'd like to run past or skirt around, or those bits of casual racism that some viewers wish to skirt around as too disturbing (or the opposite response of ignoring as not important – equally unhelpful). Every scene has shown this message conclusively. Even characters who know better get seduced by money. Every single character pursues it. They become the allies of shits and indeed get paid to protect, coddle, or defend the shits.

Those viewers seduced by the songs and tracking shots and youthful ingratiating joie de vivre in Licorice Pizza may wish to resist this sour counter-message, but it keeps slapping you in the face and patting you on the butt. "Look, this is how America works." If it bothers you enough to spoil your fun, you might decide it's the film's problem and not yours, because how many films are designed to spoil the fun?

Licorice Pizza is about how Alana finally ingests and accepts this revelation: if all men are shits, maybe I can have an inappropriate boyfriend of my very own. She wants to go with the flow now, but I don't get a strong feeling that she's heading for future happiness. She's accepting the moment instead of resisting, like this will be another passage on her way to the maturity so lacking all around her, but now she'll have her bearings. And so much for romantic comedy.

I'm not surprised to see indications that many viewers missed this message because it doesn't fit the language known as "movie", certainly not a Hollywood movie, and definitely not a Hollywood movie by a member of the entitled tribe in question. Those things are supposed to affirm every bromide and validate every emotion as they entertain without offending or disturbing us. I don't find Licorice Pizza affirmative or soothing about youth, love, the American way, the Dream, or the melting pot, and I'm crediting the filmmaker with my reaction.

Many viewers want to read a standard romantic/nostalgic pattern and find Licorice Pizza, like The Big Lebowski, strange, digressive, oddly shaped, with uncomfortable pricks sticking out. Do you know that scene in United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006) where everyone's looking at the 9/11 attack, and nobody can correctly process what's in front of their eyes because it doesn't fit their paradigm? Even though the title conjures a sharp, sour taste, I think people can stare at Licorice Pizza and miss that it says the opposite of what most American films sell. Yet it's all right there, like the "magic eye" hidden image in an autostereogram. Just look until you see it.


Wow, this is a very bad piece. No editor whatsoever looked at the first three paragraphs.


guyswhen i was thinking about Linklaters Before trilogy the other day ( a trilogy i love) it got me thinking.
Before Sunrise was a great film and didnt need anymore story added but the sequels though not needed worked out great. So...

Even though i would prefer Paul to only make stand alone original films what would your guys reaction be like if he did something down the line with the Alana and Gary characters?

Of course we dont NEED more to the story but would you watch more with these characters. Just a thought im not saying it should happen but could be a fun conversation.

Also if he did do something years down the line how do you think the story could go.


Well, he's never done a court drama before. Time to try.  :ponder:


If Jonathan Demme could direct a women-in-prison movie, so could PTA.
My house, my rules, my coffee


It seems rather late to be posting LICORICE PIZZA reviews, but I really like Cameron's video work, as well as his take on LP:


by Cameron Beyl
September 13, 2022

For a myriad number of reasons, nostalgia has come to play an increasingly large role in the ever-homogenizing landscape of American entertainment. The pleasures of nostalgia are apparent enough; they can be a comfort or distraction from an uncertain present, reminding audiences of simpler times or the glory days of their youth. For those disinclined towards change, nostalgia can be a way to navigate and/or conveniently ignore complicated sociopolitical movements. For filmed entertainment in particular, the deployment of nostalgia as a storytelling device can be for reasons as simple as avoiding the pitfalls of logical plotting when the mere presence of cell phones can resolve a potential conflict without any drama. From MAD MEN to STRANGER THINGS to THE MARVELOUS MISS MAISEL, nostalgia is everywhere.

The current crop of mainstream filmmakers have used this same force as a prism through which to depict their own backgrounds on film. Alfonso Cuaron would painstakingly recreate the Mexico City of the 1970s for his 2018 film, ROMA, while Quentin Tarantino would resurrect the technicolor glory of 1960's Los Angeles for ONCE UPON A TIME IN... HOLLYWOOD (2019). Even Steven Spielberg is getting in on the act, due to release a picture called THE FABELMANS in 2022 that purports to tell the story of his childhood growing up in Arizona in the post-war years. Director Paul Thomas Anderson has trafficked in this arena once before, with his 1997 film BOOGIE NIGHTS painting a sprawling portrait of his beloved San Fernando Valley as the 1970's gave way to the 80's. While the majority of his features to follow would also be period pieces, BOOGIE NIGHTS remains distinct for its wistful and romantic longing for a bygone era.

Anderson's ninth feature, released in 2021 and titled LICORICE PIZZA, returns to this well for an even heavier dose of nostalgia. While BOOGIE NIGHTS was rooted in a decidedly-adult perspective that he otherwise wouldn't have had as a young boy in the 70's — if it weren't for his father and friends' colorful stories, that is — LICORICE PIZZA is directly informed by the world as a teenage Anderson saw it. True to form, Anderson's unexpected storytelling defies convention at every turn, using his childhood as only a minor aspect of the overall story. Initially inspired by a fleeting episode that occurred two decades ago, wherein Anderson recounts walking by a Valley-area high school and witnessing a male student awkwardly attempting to hit on an older female photographer (1), LICORICE PIZZA actually models more of itself around the adolescence of one Gary Goetzman. Known today as a successful film producer and the co-founder of Tom Hanks' production company, Playtone, the teenage Goetzman was on the downslope of his career as a child actor and subsequently spreading his short attention span across quick-cash endeavors like waterbed companies and pinball arcades (2). The composite result of these various influences asserts itself as Anderson's most personal project yet, with Anderson obviously seeing several parallels between Goetzman and his own younger, ambitious & impossibly-precocious self. Far from content to simply revel in nostalgia's warm glow, however, Anderson uses LICORICE PIZZA to present a nuanced perspective on its universal appeal: that the supposedly-simpler times we tend to remember so fondly weren't so simple at all, possessing fundamental flaws made imperceptible by our youthful naïveté.

Anderson focuses this sprawling sentiment through the lens of first love and its formative nature, pulling inspiration from the aforementioned high school flirting episode and his own childhood crushes on older women, while also drawing from the influence of teen classics like FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and AMERICAN GRAFFITI (3). Filmed during the height of the coronavirus pandemic under the working title SOGGY BOTTOM (so named after the waterbed company run by the film's teenage protagonist), LICORICE PIZZA derives its sweet-and-savory moniker from a local chain of vinyl record stores that populated the Valley in the 1970's. Beyond its AM-radio soundtrack, however, the film has nothing to do with records or record shops; indeed, Anderson would reportedly choose the unusual title because of the "Pavlovian" effect it held over him, with the mere utterance of the phrase instantly transporting him back to the specific mood of his teenage years as he lived them (3)(4). Odd as the title may be, the ease with which it allows Anderson to slip back into time commands a similar effect on his audience, immersing us in this highly specific era while telling a timeless story.

Set in the quintessential Valley hamlet of Encino in the year 1973, LICORICE PIZZA details the lopsided (and legitimately-iffy) love story of a young man falling in love with an older woman. An age gap of ten years separates them, but the devil is in the details— the man is not so much a man at all; he's a fifteen year old boy, and the apple of his eye is well into her twenties. The subject of endless consternation and condemnation on Film Twitter, the relationship dynamic that results generally avoids its statutory implications to depict an increasingly-earnest kind of puppy love. Having worked with Alana Haim and her sisters on a series of music videos for their eponymous rock band, Anderson would craft the central character of the same name with her in mind (5). Risky as it might be to anchor a major motion picture around an untested, untrained talent with virtually zero acting experience, Anderson's choice pays off brilliantly. Alana delivers one of the most invigorating debuts in recent memory, incinerating the screen with a confrontational and fiery dynamic. Her endlessly watchable performance allows for plenty of conflicted nuance; she's entirely self-aware that her feelings aren't exactly appropriate, so she expends lots of energy trying to deny them and throwing up walls of defiance. Anderson pulls off this tricky balancing act by emphasizing her general aimlessness; a worker of odd jobs like the school photography gig that kicks off the story, Alana's lack of thought towards her future suggests that she's still very much a child herself... not yet ready to join the adult world and its attendant miseries.

Alana's co-star, Cooper Hoffman, proves equally as magnetic in his own film debut. The son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Cooper had already been a longtime family friend of Anderson's— a nephew, even. This adds an additional layer of poignancy to the whole enterprise; after the elder Hoffman's untimely passing in 2013, it's heartening to see his essence reappear in Anderson's work in the guise of his son. Though obviously not as refined a performer as his father, Cooper displays a natural talent as well as an ability to channel some of his dad's distinct physical mannerisms. Anderson's confidence in Cooper's capabilities stems not just from the formative collaborations he enjoyed with Phillip, but also from a surprising, little-known source: a series of home movies that the celebrated director has made throughout the years with Cooper and his own kids— an unbearably sweet recreational activity that nonetheless teases at a whole universe of Anderson films we'll never know about or see. Cooper's character in LICORICE PIZZA is Gary Valentine, a high school sophomore still carrying around a few pounds of baby fat. He's somehow oblivious to his inherent awkwardness, presenting himself as a confident (some might say conceited) child actor and serial entrepreneur hopping from one hare-brained business scheme to the next. He initially pursues Alana with the same erratic passion, instead finding a different sort of intimacy with her as a business partner when a romantic relationship initially proves unlikely. With the character of Gary, Anderson deliberately evokes that particular cultural phenomenon of teenage boys lusting after older women—- all to subvert our expectations about where this is all headed. In the end, it's not about lust at all, but rather the formative connections that first teach us to care about someone other than ourselves.

Though Anderson's primary interests lie in the crafting of this idiosyncratic, chronologically-lopsided romance, he nonetheless cultivates a supporting ensemble that recalls the sprawling universe of characters that define his early work. Running the gamut from Oscar-winning performers to complete unknowns and non-actors, LICORICE PIZZA's cast provides no shortage of colorful characters. Among the most recognizable faces are Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper, the former doing a fictional riff on William Holden as an old-school movie star and motorcycle daredevil with a bit of a predatory streak, while the latter reconfigures the real-life producer Jon Peters into an unhinged, chaotic force animated by a ferociously aggressive and uncontrollable libido. Renowned character crooner Tom Waits plays Rex Blau, a cantankerous, chain-smoking director influenced by Sam Peckinpah and John Huston. Benny Safdie, one half of the Safdie Brothers directing duo responsible for the A24 hits GOOD TIME and UNCUT GEMS, embodies the real life character of Joel Wachs, albeit recontextualized here as a closeted politician struggling with his relationship's incompatibility to his mayoral aspirations. He shares an unlikely connection with Alana; though they never acknowledge it directly, their bond is forged by the inner conflict they feel after indulging in romances that run counter to society's acceptance.

LICORICE PIZZA's unknown talents drive a great deal of its charm, positioning it as something of a family affair. For starters, Anderson casts Haim's real-life family to play the same roles to her character in the film. That means notable supporting turns for Alana's sisters and band mates Danielle and Este, who work together to create a stressful home dynamic for Alana that recalls the incessant, sometimes-affectionate snark dealt out by Barry Egan's seven sisters from PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE. It also means notable appearances from real-life parents Modi and Donna Haim, the latter of whom was Anderson's one-time art teacher and, as one source would put it, the subject of a childhood crush that informs LICORICE PIZZA's story (1). Anderson's wife, Maya Rudolph, makes a brief appearance as an assistant at a casting office where Gary regularly auditions, while their own children pop up in a sequence set at the Tail O' The Cock restaurant— a long-gone Valley institution that was lovingly resurrected as a set for the film. Harriet Sansom Harris, who made so memorable an impression as a messy aging socialite in PHANTOM THREAD, turns another bit appearance into a delicious display of scene-chewing; here, she appears as a chain-smoking, small-time talent agent, embodying the Valley's particular brand of entertainment industry sleaze. Anderson includes yet even more extended family friends, like Steven Spielberg's daughter Sasha as Alana's photography colleague and Leonardo DiCaprio's real-life father as a grooved-out waterbed salesman. For viewers who've been following Anderson's work since the beginning, the fleeting, edge-of-the-frame appearance by John C. Reilly is a welcome surprise. A onetime frequent collaborator absent from Anderson's viewfinder since MAGNOLIA, Reilly's cameo as Herman Munster — complete in full Frankenstein drag — would be unrecognizable if not for his unique tenor. His presence lasts a mere handful of seconds... the length of time it takes Anderson's camera to glide a couple yards. And yet, Reilly's inclusion injects a dose of metatextual nostalgia for Anderson's early work, inducing a pleasurable response via the warmth of an old familiar face.

Since the beginning, Anderson has been a singular filmmaking voice, always directing from his own script. LICORICE PIZZA is no different, further consolidating the expression of his distinct worldview by serving as his own cinematographer. In a way, PHANTOM THREAD was the pilot program for this development— after a long and fruitful series of collaborations with cinematographer Robert Elswit, Anderson would effectively make the position redundant, collapsing the cameraman's responsibilities into his own. This isn't to suggest a cinematographer's contributions aren't vital; indeed, it's very much the opposite. Anderson gets away with it because he is a consummate filmmaker in every sense of the word, gifted with a superlative technical expertise that empowers his strengths as a storyteller. Even then, he has the sense to know what he doesn't know, pivoting towards a closer collaboration with his gaffer in a capacity tailored more towards his needs. In this context, Michael Bauman's credits as Anderson's "Chief Lighting Technician" and "Lighting Cameraman" as far back as THE MASTER become clearer. When it comes to PHANTOM THREAD's romantic and sophisticated elegance, Bauman's seasoned skillset is arguably just as responsible as his director's. It only makes sense, then, that this unique arrangement would result in Bauman sharing a full Director of Photography credit on LICORICE PIZZA... even if the pair only take the credit in the first place because of union regulations.

The resulting product is a work of sublime, sunsoaked beauty— and, given that no digital intermediate was ever created, a testament to the chaotic charms of old-fashioned photochemical color-timing. Returning to the 2.35:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio for the first time since THERE WILL BE BLOOD, Anderson and Bauman expose the 35mm film frame in the incandescent glow of SoCal's late afternoon sun. Ample lens flares punctuate a sophisticated color palette defined by bright primaries, rosy highlights, and bluish shadows. Befitting its shared setting and time period, LICORICE PIZZA's cinematography is a close cousin to BOOGIE NIGHTS— their many similarities nevertheless demonstrating how much Anderson's artistry has grown and matured in the intervening years. Both are marked by a restless, curious camera that constantly tracks around, ahead of, and after its subjects, as if animated by the twin spirits of Jonathan Demme and Martin Scorsese. LICORICE PIZZA even includes imagery of homegrown filmmaking within the context of its story, with a 16mm campaign ad for Joel Wachs drawing a clear parallel to the kitschy, lo-fi love letter that Amber Waves fashions for Dirk Diggler in BOOGIE NIGHTS. The usage of vintage lenses (6) cements our visual sense of period with soft lines and a gauzy, dreamlike bokeh.

Two key collaborators from Anderson's suite of music videos for Haim — production designer Florencia Martin and editor Andy Jurgensen — carry over into the same capacities here, with the latter crafting an edit that alternates between punchy quick cuts intended to mirror the upbeat, ceaseless energies of our young protagonist and an unhurried, languorous pace that lets us marinate in the fine details of the former's immersive period recreation. Regular composer Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame contributes a spare score that's reminiscent of Jon Brion's work from Anderson's early films, marked by a sweet and subdued theme that evokes the simplicity of adolescence in its arrangement of various string instruments. Like BOOGIE NIGHTS before it, the original score takes a backseat to a rambling musical landscape of needledrops from the period. David Bowie's "Life On Mars" serves as a kind of anthem, featured prominently in both the feature and accompanying promotional material to give Anderson's little love story the sweep of an epic, while The Doors' "Peace Frog" propels us through an ambitious montage that reflects the idea of the 1970's as a kind of transitory era between the psychedelic, immaterial values of the 60's and the coke-fueled commerce of the Reagan years. Indeed, LICORICE PIZZA digs even deeper into time for tracks that could be considered "oldies" even by 1973 standards, featuring an eclectic jukebox of recordings from Nina Simone, Chuck Berry and Big Crosby, among others. Like Quentin Tarantino would do in his own sun-kissed ode to a bygone LA, 2019's ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD, Anderson weaves his disparate music selections together using AM radio dispatches from the era, effectively crafting an invisible, omnipresent web of sound that ensnares millions of unwitting Angelenos into a shared cultural existence.

After PHANTOM THREAD's brief detour across the Atlantic, LICORICE PIZZA resumes Anderson's careerlong portrait of California in the twentieth century— an unspoken, but overarching narrative that ties together the otherwise-disparate storylines of his films. While his characters and plot lines don't intersect and cross-over like Tarantino's or Kevin Smith's, Anderson's works nevertheless interact with each other by suggesting a richer subtext. BOOGIE NIGHTS is obviously the closest kin to LICORICE PIZZA, the former's preoccupation with the sea change wrought on the porn industry by the rise of video finding an echo in the letter's structuring around less-earthshaking developments like the invention of the waterbed and the legalization of pinball. THERE WILL BE BLOOD's portrait of the oil industry's transformative effect on California's economic and cultural landscape reverberates through the decades, resulting in LICORICE PIZZA's apocalyptic depictions of the 70's oil crisis, complete with gas station lines stretching for blocks and providing the setup for a breathless setpiece that finds Alana threading a massive moving truck through a downhill slalom of canyon neighborhood streets.

Though Anderson goes to great lengths to resurrect long-gone restaurants and hangouts in exacting detail, his cinematic return to the Encino and Sherman Oaks areas that shaped him is not an exercise in mere nostalgia. His rose-tinted glasses don't occlude the sharpness of his vision; he's here with clear intent. LICORICE PIZZA is an opportunity for a world-renowned filmmaker to reconnect with the formative essence of his artistry, and to get back in touch with his inner child— immature and conceited though that child may be. The undercurrents of artful cynicism and self-delighted perversity that have come to define Anderson's voice serve to also mark the contours of Cooper's and Alana's relationship. Despite their difference in physical age, they're well matched in emotional maturity, and their connection is rooted in a fundamental, childlike innocence; though adults are very much present throughout, they are peripheral characters who are powerless to stop Cooper and his acne-ridden minions from running rampant and unsupervised through the Valley's endless grid of hot asphalt, seedy strip malls and single-story ranch homes. Even for Alana, technically an adult at 25, the intoxicating, exhilarating world of capital-A Adults is just beyond reach; she still lives in her childhood home with her parents and sisters, and her ambivalence about joining the workforce causes her to gravitate towards summer jobs meant for teenagers instead of a specialized career. If we couldn't pick it up from these context clues, we surely could from their erratic displays of stunted maturity: Alana won't allow herself to grow up, while Cooper is in quite the hurry to join adulthood. To borrow a saccharine sentiment from another story about a chronologically-imbalanced love story, they're "just the right age for meeting in the middle".

Cooper's attraction may very well be an Andersonian embodiment of the ultimate juvenile male fantasy: that of hooking up with an older woman as a misguided means of self-validation and confirmation of "manhood", while Alana's own (reluctant) interest isn't quite the predatory angle that critics make it out to be— she doesn't have any power to lord over him, and she doesn't necessarily want anything from him because she can barely admit she even wants him in the first place. This unstable chemistry makes LICORICE PIZZA's ending all the more discordant... at least, at first glance. After two hours of Alana hissing at Coopers' amorous overtures, Anderson closes on a note of earnest sweetness: she runs away into the night with him, hand in hand, breathlessly whispering the truth that she's worked this entire time to deny: "I love you, Gary". An admission that the sweetness of love can soften even the hardest of hearts, the expression of this sentiment is maybe the boldest move in a film comprised almost entirely of them— simultaneously reinforcing and blowing up everything that came before.

Though Anderson was no doubt braced for the lighting rod of criticism he'd endure over the inappropriate age gap at the center of its nostalgic romance, he very well may have been caught off guard by just how widely LICORICE PIZZA was embraced by industry colleagues and fervent fans who branded it as an instant Andersonian classic. Positive reviews poured in from across the spectrum of media outlets, buoyed by critics who appreciated his idiosyncratic mix of refined artistic sensibilities and sex-obsessed juvenality. Its theatrical run, timed for the holidays and maximum awards season attention, would culminate in a modest $33 million worldwide box office haul and three Oscar nominations for Anderson's writing & direction, as well as a Best Picture nod shared with his co-producer, Adam Somner. The lingering controversy over the problematic age gap — further complicated by the satirical (but easily misinterpreted) inclusion of a minor character who speaks to his series of Japanese wives in a blatantly-racist accent — may very well complicate its reputation among general audiences for years to come, but LICORICE PIZZA promises to age like an old, beloved record: full of analog warmth and crackling imperfection, the tactility of its grooves mapping the contours of a lustrous past suffused with blissful heartache.

Find Your Magali

I love to program a twinbill of 1975's Smile, followed by Licorice Pizza, and see what lightbulbs/connections go through people's heads.



Nice.  I don't recall seeing that one before.  Coincidentally, I walked by there today and took a moment...



Well that almost made me nostalgic for an utterly shit year.



Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves could now form a weird double-bill with LP: both films feature extended Bradley Cooper cameos.


Quote from: RudyBlatnoyd on April 02, 2023, 12:24:38 PMDungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves could now form a weird double-bill with LP: both films feature extended Bradley Cooper cameos.

guess he needed cash to help fund his directing projects