Licorice Pizza

Licorice Pizza ★★★★★

I think with Phantom Thread PTA introduced a new pace/rhythm to his films that feels a bit like lifting weights. The couple is fighting (down) and then they get along (up). They’re fighting (down) and then they get along (up), and with each pump there’s some banging set piece, which is the real currency of these movies. Every time the dynamic resets, the film could contentedly stop; we’ve had enough set pieces, enough reps, in this session to be satisfied. But he keeps going, and once more they’re fighting and then they get along and they’re fighting and then they get along, and in a display of incredible stamina, the set pieces don’t let up or even falter.

With Licorice Pizza specifically I feel like he saved all the best stuff for the last hour. After a pretty pleasant, standard coming-of-age romance arc, the film turns into a joyride collection of unhinged, coked-up shenanigans you’d expect from classic PTA (before of course wrapping up with a delicately sweet conclusion). Which brings me to the point that he introduced this pacing approach with a film that’s more or less alien to everything he’s made prior (Phantom Thread), and he’s continued it with a film that’s the most comprehensive amalgamation of his past work to date.

This also means that the film isn’t quite the return to the tight Punch-Drunk-Love form some people were expecting (though it’s a return to that film in many other regards). It’s bloated for sure, but the kind of bloated where you want to keep eating and are simply too full for all the delicious food in front of you. I remember with Phantom Thread feeling a bit wishy-washy on the back-and-forthness of it and PTA’s decision to keep benching, but familiarity with the film has enriched subsequent viewings, knowing what’s to come and looking forward to scenes and reveling in them in the moment. Not only are these subsequent viewings better but I would argue necessary to properly experience the film.

This is how I feel about albums, too — you can’t really have a proper read on one until you’ve listened to it a few times and understand the structure and can name each song after hearing the first 3 seconds — and this is how I suspect Licorice Pizza will be on subsequent viewings, seeing as how it uses the same framework of Phantom Thread which I love, colored in with all the strokes of every other PTA film which I also love. This was of course my first viewing, but I can’t wait to watch it a hundred more times.

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