Licorice Pizza

Licorice Pizza ★★★★½

Anderson’s warmest, funniest, and most purely entertaining movie since BOOGIE NIGHTS. No offense to PHANTOM THREAD and THE MASTER, both flawless (INHERENT VICE left me cold and confused), but LICORICE PIZZA is a welcome return to the rollicking San Fernando Valley neighborhoods he clearly adores.

Does it break any new ground? Not necessarily. But what totally won me over was the laser-like specificity of its portraits down to the tiniest character. The screenplay’s scene work is immaculate, the production design and costuming are slavish to mid-‘70s tackiness, the music is cherry picked to perfection, and the tone is so free-wheeling and affectionate you can’t help but sink in.

Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman both center it, and it’s impressive that showy one-scene turns from stars like Sean Penn (having the most fun he’s had maybe ever) and Bradley Cooper (sending up the real Jon Peters with glee) don’t upend their halting love-and-hate romance.

Haim is an older girl who’s so bored and dissatisfied that she falls in with a group of 15-year-olds, and Hoffman’s the child actor impresario who uses his stubbornness and local fame to hawk waterbeds and pinball machines. Again Anderson fills this with such detail and love for the characters that it doesn’t matter if we’ve seen this kind of period coming of age tale before. We just haven’t seen theirs, and watching Haim and Hoffman annoy each other from one sprawling comic vignette to another is a joy.

At its best, LICORICE PIZZA has the loose latchkey kid spirit of ‘70s teen romances like RICH KIDS and JEREMY, although those were set in chilly, isolating New York. This is a more expansive LA movie through and through, truly a family affair (notice how many Anderson friends and collaborators appear in the credits), meticulously crafted, sweet as hell, just a pleasure to hang out with and I can’t wait to see it again.

I’m not sure you need to know the valley to appreciate it this much but it helps - the eerily accurate way Anderson references and lightly pokes fun at the sleepy, sweaty, suburban Hollywood-adjacent vibe of Encino and Burbank is infectious.

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