Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie and Skyler Gisondo
Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
If Quentin Tarantino has set a precedent of highly established directors creating fun and stylised films about the period they grew up in with ‘Once Upon A Time in Hollywood’, then Paul Thomas Anderson has just released a great addition to the collection. Like George Lucas’s ‘American Graffiti’ and Richard Linklater’s ‘Dazed and Confused’ before them, everything’s cool in these films – it’s just teenagers running around, having a good time and getting into trouble. Set in 1970’s L.A, ‘Licorice Pizza’ follows fifteen-year-old Gary Valentine, a successful child star, as he grows up hoping the girl he’s in love with might be won over by his charm, whilst also somehow seeming to get involved in just about everything that was going on in the valley at the time.
Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim are brilliant as the two lead characters. Despite it being the feature debut for the both of them, their chemistry onscreen is effortlessly engaging. Whether they’re arguing about pinball machines or making up over water beds, the constant highs and lows of their relationship is central to the story of ‘Licorice Pizza’, and captures everything that’s exciting about being young in a beautiful place like San Fernando.
Looking back through his filmography, it’s hard to argue that Paul Thomas Anderson is anything less than a modern master of filmmaking. His style is unique, but adapts with each new story he tells, whether that be the early twentieth century oil industry, or the trappings of dressmaking in Britain. ‘Licorice Pizza’, although arguably less direct in its storytelling, doesn’t disappoint. Scenes pass by effortlessly as a result of Anderson’s excellent direction, hailing back to the films which established his career like ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘Magnolia’, where the camera moves with grace, whilst capturing everything around it. When the kids are excited about some new business venture or plan they’re about to lay into action, so is the camera, moving with a degree of its own energy that you can’t help but be drawn in by.
There are some absolutely brilliant moments within the film. Bradley Cooper lights up every scene he’s in, not only because of the blindingly white outfit he’s wearing, but also from the energy and intensity he dedicates to every small detail. Benny Safdie’s role as a candidate for the local mayoral position brings a great level of sincerity to the film, showing that not everything is bright and cheerful in the world of the characters. Although the narrative is fairly loose, jumping from one moment to another with little explanation, the choice to play the film out in this way works as a reflection of the energetic and impulsive way in which Valentine’s mind functions. Furthermore, it reinforces the idea that this is a nostalgic film for Anderson, reflecting on the times in which he grew up with a great amount of fondness, which, like a memory, is thought back on like a patchwork – some things are more vivid and others aren’t.
‘Licorice Pizza’ is exactly the kind of fun and relaxing film that could do really well at the cinema these days. It looks beautiful, the characters are engaging, and it transports you back to the feeling of excitement you had when you were a kid and the summer holidays were in full swing, even if that wasn’t in the 1970’s L.A. It’s not without its flaws, but as a fun trip out to the cinema, you can’t fault it.