Licorice Pizza

Licorice Pizza ★★★★★

PTA's white elephantine compulsion to prove his smarts through the swagger of Masterpiece Cinema and bold, loud camera strokes has—thank God—vanished. He now nibbles at the edges of scenes without scoring anything that might be confused with a big philosophical point. A more effective (because de-emphasized) romance than the Punch Drunk film, the Pizza is simply—"simply"—grace notes of a situationship in the making, memories of local racists and local politicians with messy love lives, amnesiac recallings of moments that have been lost and are unrecoverable and better off for it: memories, for instance, of the sun-drenched John Wayne-like contrapposto struck by a long-legged crush inside a gym as the crusher's photo is taken in front of her on ID Day; the squirming, grotty, vivid phone conversation an agent has with a mysterious other caller, how her series of three "No's" in a row prove how unconsciously plugged in she is to weird life; the misshapen, reliable, mumble-mouthed neighborhood kids who will, bless them, always show up to the latest stupid fad, whether a pinball arcade or a water-bed emporium; the self-same crush (Alana Haim—who has a dreamlike Shelley Duvall quality to her act of mere existing on film) as she steers a runaway long, long trailer-truck with the intensity of a silent-era comedian who never breaks. This feels downright Minnellian in the way the director does not give a damn about plot and is more invested in propelling narrative forward through pulses, colors, burlesque dancers, rays of light, perverse line deliveries, and every other human-scaled quirk that is anathema to Hollywood-business-as-usual. (The fleet-foot manner in which the scenes lurch forward, at a casual pace, make it feel like a Pre-Code in slow motion.) A-listers such as Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Benny Safdie, Bradley Cooper, and the Haim sisters are all turned into character-actor flotsam wading in and out of the midground, reminding us of an outside world (of geopolitics, oil, misery, aging, rueful nostalgia, paranoia, and neoliberalist cynicism about the end of history) that our love-struck friends must, and do, delay. Hoffman is playing Jimmy Cagney in Hard to Handle—he’s constantly coming up with a series of increasingly eccentric get-rich-quick schemes instead of, like, doing his homework—while long-term-thinker Alana Haim is Joan Blondell, always performing for the Broadway crowds in her cloudy head, wiry, waiting for Something, Anything. The fact that Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman never really clarify what they are: chef's kiss. And then they do, and the world of the pinball arcade doesn't listen. They have their moment, they retreat to the private triumph of one day. And life in L.A. moves forward into its inevitable hardening. But memories don't fade. They lie beautifully. And Todd Rundgren is playing on the radio, so shut up and listen.

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