Licorice Pizza

This is a really fine production from script to actors, music, cinematography, and production design.  The dialog is entertaining and smartly—but not too smartly—crafted.  Everyone converses in ways people normally talk to one another without artifice, which sometimes happens with clever scriptwriters.  This was penned by its director Paul Thomas Anderson and reflects his usual number of characters’ insights while still being entertaining and funny.

Two quirky characters meet when Gary (Hoffman) is still in high school.  She is 25 year-old Alana (Haim), who deflects his flirtatious advances in no uncertain terms.  She points out that it would be illegal for her to accept them.  But finally being convinced that Gary has already made his mark as a known actor and businessman she finally gives in to his persistence and agrees to be friends.  Gary’s ace in the hole—a sense for and success in finding business opportunities—is not usually a come-on for young women, but Alana has enough untapped talent in the art it is attractive to her.  She can’t resist joining in on his impromptu endeavors, making a contribution that shows, to everyone’s surprise, acumen.  She is the youngest of three sisters in a Jewish family that also looks upon her with bemusement.

So the film does the wacky back-and-forth switches common in first love, the back-and-forth usually being stimulated by sparks of jealousy on one side or the other.  Entertaining bits that get into numerous sub-plots are their business ventures: “Soggy Bottom Waterbeds” morphing into “Bernie’s Waterbeds”, “Pacific Waterbeds”, “Fat Bernie’s Pinball Palace”, and even “Fat Bernie’s Environmental Living.”  Throughout, Alana frequently calls Gary a dumb d…….it, thinking he will go away…but not with somebody else, of course, we realize, before she does.

Alana Haim winningly demonstrates her talent in inhabiting a character and bringing it to life.

Other enjoyable/fun moments in Licorice Pizza are the name-dropping (Barbra Streisand), the cameos (Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Maya Rudolph, Skyler Gisondo), the playful camera action through windows and super-imposed reflections, and musical accompaniments to particular scenes.  Bradley Cooper’s Jon Peters as an over-the-top self-entitled film star competes with Jared Leto’s Paolo Gucci in House of Gucciin conveying a completely different persona then those we’ve come to associate with them.

Cooper Hoffman brings the star quality of his father, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, into his character as a charismatic figure able to charm and convince others of his abilities.  Alana Haim winningly demonstrates her talent in inhabiting a character and bringing it to life.  I especially like the way Alana is portrayed; her attraction to men is primarily about her maturity and business sense, rather than her physical attractiveness. In fact, she has few of the qualities usually given to “beautiful”, but more than one man is grateful to her for her good sense.  (How long will it be before filmmakers highlight that aspect of women over their physical appearance?)

Much could/will be made of Gary’s age (15 going on 16) in this film, but because of the way the characters are presented (he much more “worldly” than she, and his pursuing her rather than the other way around) justifies it from my point of view.  So many relationships with the male much older than the female don’t seem to give people much pause.

Final Thought

A new kind of “first love”, where the characters are quirky and don’t fit the usual mold. A superb production.


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