Zach Leslie’s review published on Letterboxd:
If you hate this movie and were upset by many of the choices it made, I totally get it. Not going to try to convince you otherwise. Your feelings are totally valid.
I also think PTA is such a troll and is absolutely provoking a lot of these things and is reveling in this discourse, even if he swears up and down that he isn’t.
As to where I stand with Licorice Pizza, just speaking completely honestly, it charmed and captivated me in a way I hadn’t been in a long time.
I was transported to a time and place I knew nothing about. A lot of bad stuff happens here, a lot of immoral, awful people inhabit this space (classic PTA), there’s a lot of good music, but it feels real. So real it felt like I could reach out and enter into it if I wanted to.
Now to the question/controversy at the center of this movie:
Is the relationship at the center of this film wrong? Heck, is it even borderline, or maybe straight up illegal at times? Yeah, absolutely it is. But it feels like something that happened to somebody in 1973 LA. I didn’t read it as an endorsement, I saw it more as a recollection of a memory.
Though I have been asking the question, what changes about this movie if the Gary character is 18 or 19? He would still be charming and have all the things the Alana character (age 28, probably) wants but doesn’t have, she’d still be initially a little embarrassed about hanging out with him in the first place, but at the very least the relationship becomes significantly less weird and off putting and the film becomes way more accessible.
PTA is a very deliberate filmmaker, and had every opportunity to change this aspect of the movie, but chose not to.
So now here we are, wrestling with what all this means, and I haven’t even touched on a lot of the racism depicted in the movie. I don’t think any of it is important to the story, but again, is more just PTA saying, “this stuff happened in the 70s.” Doesn’t make it less offensive, just trying to wrap my head around it personally. I think you can delete those two or three scenes and nothing fundamentally changes about the film.
All of that stuff out of the way, I think the filmmaking on display here is nothing short of mastery. It is an absolutely incredible film to just look at. I personally enjoyed many of the needle drops, as someone not as familiar with 70s music, and discovered a lot here.
Okay so…probably my longest review…ever? Lots more I could say, but I’m just gonna stop I think.