Licorice Pizza

Licorice Pizza ★★★★½

2021 Ranked

Charming on the surface yet melancholic under it, Licorice Pizza harkens back to the earlier period in Paul Thomas Anderson’s career when he made the likes of Boogie Nights and Hard Eight, albeit directed with the maturity and restraint that better define him now while still largely embracing the aesthetics of the 70s — which are beautifully captured on 35mm photography by both PTA himself and Michael Bauman — and leaning into Vibes™️ more so than he probably ever has before. In short, there’s not really much of a narrative present, yet that ultimately doesn’t matter because of how engrossing this is, and the tight editing by Andy Jurgensen causes its 133 minute runtime to be incredibly breezy without ever feeling too rushed. Even if this does wrap up a bit too neatly (which, much like the other gripe I have with this film, is very minor, as I would not be writing all of this nor rating the film this high if I felt otherwise), PTA is very well aware of the age gap between the two central characters and never once romanticizes it, because while Gary Valentine (excellently performed by Cooper Hoffman, son of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman) sees his relationship with Alana Kane as a romantic one, Alana doesn’t feel similarly towards Gary. Rather, Alana uses Gary’s admiration towards her as a way of coping with the painful fact that essentially every other man in her life is neglectful towards her. Said pain is wholly internalized and externalized through Alana Haim, whose star-making performance is the primary reason why Licorice Pizza works as well as it does. There’s been plenty of discourse regarding certain repetitive gags in Licorice Pizza that fall into stereotypes, and while I find the age gap discourse to be utterly nonsensical, I do have to say I agree with the criticisms towards those gags. I get what PTA was attempting to do, but I don’t think that aspect ultimately worked and instead came across as off putting to me. That said, whatever criticisms I have towards the writing are almost entirely overlooked due to the aforementioned wonderful performance from Haim and unsurprisingly top notch direction from PTA.

Another PTA banger, and one of 2021’s best offerings.

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