Licorice Pizza Review

By: Andrew Warren  |  December 20, 2021

By Andrew Warren

Licorice Pizza is a new film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA). Set in early-nineteen-seventies Los Angeles (LA),  it follows twenty-five-year-old Alana Kane, a photographer’s assistant searching for a purpose. Everything changes when she meets Gary Valentine, a fifteen-year-old enterprising actor. A curious relationship develops between the two as they start businesses together, fall in and out of love, and discover what it is they truly value.

This wonderful film features two incredible breakout performances. Alana Haim (Alana) performs like a seasoned actress; it is hard to believe this is her first role. Like Julia Fox in Uncut Gems, you cannot look away when she’s on the screen. She’s funny when she needs to be; Her outbursts are entertaining as opposed to annoying. Her facial expressions are malleable, shifting from adoration to contempt whenever Gary says anything stupid. I can’t wait to see her in her next movie.

The other new actor is Cooper Hoffman (Gary), son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. This is a tricky role, balancing outward confidence with a subtle, but intense, self-doubt. For most of the film Gary projects swagger and bravado, but there are a few moments when he comes face-to-face with his own limitations and his facade drops. It’s not always obvious but it’s there if you notice it.

The supporting cast is great too, with performances from Skyler Gisondo, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, the entire Haim family, John Michael Higgins, and more. The film also manages to juggle its tonal shifts with great skill. It’s funny when Gary flirts with Alana, but incredibly suspenseful when he calls her to confirm that she has a new boyfriend. It’s light when Gary and his friends make dirty gestures with gas cans, but nerve-wracking when their truck stalls in hilly LA.

It’s a Paul Thomas Anderson film. That means the directing, the writing, the soundtrack, is all top notch. The film’s flaws lie mostly in its storytelling. The first hour focuses primarily on the relationship between Gary and Alana. However, at a certain point that aspect takes a back seat to the seventies Hollywood setting. The story becomes less serialized and more episodic. What was a romantic coming-of-age story is now a series of vignettes featuring real people from that time period. The actor William Holden shows up, along with the hairdresser and film producer, John Peters. The politician Joel Wachs makes a substantial appearance in the last act.  The scenes with these characters feel quite indulgent as they don’t fit it naturally with the rest of the film. The climax is weakened as it’s too dependent on undeveloped storylines involving these real people. Had the director been more focused in his vision, it would have been a more cohesive movie.   

However, Licorice Pizza isn’t a movie you watch for the story; you watch it for the atmosphere. Movies are emotional simulations. We enjoy movies because they make us feel things we don’t get from our normal lives. Licorice Pizza made me feel joy, romance, excitement, and passion. I’ll admit I thought it faltered in the middle, but I didn’t want it to end. I’d give a 8/10.

However, I don’t believe that every YU student will feel the same way, so allow me add the following conditions. If you’ve heard of the movie before and are waiting to see it, you will enjoy it. If you haven’t heard of it, but you liked Dazed and Confused, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, or Boogie Nights, then you will probably still enjoy it. If you haven’t heard of those movies, Licorice Pizza probably isn’t for you.

Also watch Boogie Nights now! What the hell is wrong with you? It’s on Showtime.