Josh Barton’s review published on Letterboxd:
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the best filmmakers when it comes to making a film you can settle down to in your cinema seat and just vibe to, Boogie Nights being a prime example of this. He's back with Licorice Pizza, a coming-of-age film set in 1970s LA, and it's most definitely another great time at the cinema.
The story of Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) growing up, running around and falling in love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973. Coming across many colourful characters, the film tracks the treacherous navigation of first love.
What Paul Thomas Anderson brings to the fore with Licorice Pizza is proof that, even when not at the peak of his powers, he is able to deliver a film better than many would ever dream of making. The narrative follows Alana and Gary as they grow closer to each other yet it never feels as if the film is just a love story between these two characters, Gary taking a chance when he can to make a quick buck and Alana fascinated by his character even as she tries to attract the attention of older men.
It's a really funny film as Anderson puts his two leads on a meandering path through a bunch of quirky supporting characters, many of whom aren't around long enough to make a lasting impression though, that may prove to be an obstacle between Gary and Alana. As I've said, there's some truly funny moments along the way however, the racism towards the film's Japanese characters from one character in particular just feels totally out of place and adds nothing to the narrative, leaving a bit of a sour taste in the mouth.
Licorice Pizza is an absolute dream to look at, Anderson working on the film's cinematography with Michael Bauman, neon soaked LA nights looking gorgeous in particular as Anderson utilises long takes so effectively once again. The film also possesses a killer soundtrack that makes it even more of a joy to sit through, even if some of them feel as if they're being played for the sake of it.
Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim share an undeniable chemistry in Licorice Pizza as Gary and Alana, both delivering solid performances which is great considering they're both making their debuts. The playful dynamic between the two is what lights up the film throughout and, even if it's not largely considered the greatest performance of the year, expect to see Haim amongst the nominees come awards season. In regards to the many supporting characters, Haim's father Mordechai is one of the standouts as her very traditional Jewish father far from impressed with her choice in boyfriends, while Bradley Cooper just oozes charisma as Jon Peters, his intense persona leaving the couple and their friends in a bit of an entertaining predicament.
It may not be the greatest film from Paul Thomas Anderson but Licorice Pizza is just one of those films that you can't help but sit down and have a good time with. Opens here in the UK on New Year's Day so it's definitely a fine film to welcome 2022 with.