Licorice Pizza

Licorice Pizza ★★★½

Tonight's screening of LICORICE PIZZA was sold out, on one of Manhattan's biggest screens. Even if I thought the movie was crap (I liked it with strong reservations), that would've been exciting - I haven't experienced that at a multiplex since Feb. 2020 (and I've been going to movie theaters in New York for seven months now.)

I'm still sorting out my feelings. LICORICE PIZZA feels most authentically '70s in its pleasantly aimless rambling. Its two lead characters have strong personalities, which guide the film rather than a clear narrative. They exist from moment to moment, shifting emotions quickly and living out transactional relationships that threaten to turn far uglier than this film wants to go. The emotional peak involves an argument featuring a character we've never seen before, with Alana (Alana Haim) sitting on the sidelines as a third wheel. The concept of a 15-year-old boy repeatedly telling a 25-year-old woman how much he's attracted to her could've gone into very dark territory, and you can feel Anderson struggling not to turn this into pure male fantasy. To that end, Alana feels more real than any of the male characters. (The film gets a contagious pleasure from having men like Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper and Tom Waits turn up to chew the scenery for a few scenes.) Alana Haim's performance frequently suggests silent anger. The cinematography, done by Anderson and Michael Bauman, looks like a faded photo from decades ago, pale and grainy. But despite the wall-to-wall period pop songs, it's not a love letter to the past - casual racism and homophobia pop up in a few scenes. Gary Valentine's (Cooper Hoffman) success as a teenage businessman lays the groundwork for present-day hustle culture, but the whole film feels like a marathon towards a destination it spells out a bit too clearly.

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