REVIEW: Paul Thomas Anderson serves up one of year’s best with ‘Licorice Pizza’

Sometimes a good movie will introduce a new talent on screen.

It’s an even bigger treat when two new performers are introduced and give stellar performances.

That’s the case with “Licorice Pizza,” where first time performers Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim star. Hoffman plays Gary, a teen actor with a ton of ambition. Despite being 15, Gary has a knack for hustling with small business schemes.

The film picks up in 1973, with Gary meeting Haim’s character Alana, a 25-year-old photography assistant. The two form an initial bond and from there, start working together on Gary’s business ideas. The film follows their relationship through the ups and downs of their lives during the summer months.

“Pizza” is an incredibly well made slice of life film that works as a double character study. While the movie has its unique aspects, mostly in the form of Gary’s part time businesses, it’s very much a simple story of two people living out a summer.

One of those people is a young adult, who’s still is unsure about their future and is in a sort of post-education purgatory. Gary, meanwhile, is a teen approaching adulthood, and is trying to accelerate this with a push toward maturity.

These elements with the characters not only make for compelling arcs to follow, they also make for an interesting dynamic for the relationship between the two. The ever present push and pull between these characters, what they want, how they feel, and what they mean to each other, holds an audience tightly.

As a slice of life movie, “Licorice Pizza” plays out with less structure than other dramas. The film’s story isn’t necessarily building to a crescendo in the traditional sense, yet the movie is consistently churning out drama and humor between the lead characters.

LicoriceZaBlog
Courtesy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and United Artists.

In the end, it’s what makes “Licorice Pizza” so effective. The film is an intoxicating one. The jealousy, love, tension, frustration and admiration existing in the movie makes for a rich experience.

On top of its exploration of the experiences with early adulthood and the years leading up to that period, “Licorice Pizza” also takes jabs at the shallowness of celebrity status and the frailty of unfettered capitalism. The latter often represented by Gary’s business ventures.

As said at the beginning, these are two new actors to the big screen, but they are up to the task as the leads. Both are phenomenal. Hoffman captures the nervousness of his character, who puts on a front to seem more mature than he is. The roller coaster of anxiety and confidence the character has is well portrayed.

Also exceptional is Haim, who does magnificent work displaying the attitude and feelings one experiences as a young adult. There’s so much depth at play with Alana’s character and Haim, whether it’s by delivery of dialogue or through facial expressions, gets it across.

The film also has some short, but brilliant segments with a couple more well known actors such as Bradley Cooper and Sean Penn.

Director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson crafted a fine piece of cinema with “Licorice Pizza.” It’s funny, romantic and engaging, with two new performers doing stellar work as a pair of memorable characters. 4.75 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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