Time: 106 Minutes
Age Rating: Offensive language, sexual references & drug references
Alana Haim as Alana Kane
Cooper Hoffman as Gary Valentine
Sean Penn as Jack Holden
Tom Waits as Rex Blau
Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters
Benny Safdie as Joel Wachs
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
The story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973.
Licorice Pizza (once titled Soggy Bottom) was on my most anticipated films of 2021 list. Along with having a good cast, it is the next film from director Paul Thomas Anderson, whose work I really like. It would be something of a coming-of-age movie, and I’m not really big on those kinds of movies and the trailers weren’t exactly selling it to me, but I was willing to watch it. Having finally seen it after months of it being critically acclaimed by many people, I can say that the movie is decent, although disappointing.
There isn’t much of a narrative to Licorice Pizza. It definitely fits into the category of hangout/vibe movies like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and I’m just not a fan of those types of films. The messy nature of the story made for a somewhat uninteresting and boring movie as the plot meanders through a number of underdeveloped subplots. For the first half it works okay but it really loses steam in the second half. When it eventually reaches its ending, it just felt unsatisfying. It is also a coming-of-age movie, and like hangout movies I’m not a huge fan of those. A big part of coming-of-age stories is that they rely on you caring for the story and characters and I just couldn’t do that with Licorice Pizza. The lead characters were watchable, but it felt more like I was observing them rather than being with them on their journey, despite PTA’s best efforts for it to be the latter. There’s just also something about the movie that felt empty, just mildly entertaining but nothing else. Any enjoyment I had watching them in the first half has fizzled out by the end. I couldn’t connect to any of it, and I can tell that on a rewatch I’d find the film to be worse. Licorice Pizza is definitely a comedy, and it is funny in parts, minus a couple questionable jokes involving Asian accents, whose inclusions are just some of the many odd and bad choices in the film. Finally dealing with the elephant in the room, at the centre of the movie is a relationship between a 15 year old boy and a 25 year old woman, causing quite the controversy even before its release. I went in rather open minded and waited to see how it works in the movie, and I came out of it finding the relationship to be very weird. I get that its somewhat meant to be a little uncomfortable and there are acknowledgements of it being wrong, but the way its resolved by the end just made me wonder what kind of story we sat through, or what PTA was going for here. Without spoiling things, that ending is honestly quite a confounding and strange choice. I would say that its not enough to take you out of the movie, but it is the core part of the film and so it is hard to look past.
There is a good cast involved. The two leads are Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, and they are very good in their parts and deliver great performances. However, the relationship between the two characters were still weird and the connection just wasn’t that believable. The supporting cast are also good, including people like Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn, and Benny Safdie. Some of them only appear for a few scenes, but they usually make strong impressions when they do appear.
The direction from Paul Thomas Anderson as expected was great and stylish, not as impressive as some of his other movies but still pretty good. It transports you back to the 70s, with the production design, the grainy look to fit with the 70s and the good soundtrack even if the needle drop moments were a little generic and forgettable. I also liked whenever PTA’s trademark long takes make their appearances.
While I’m prepared to say that I like Licorice Pizza, I can’t help but feel a little let down. Despite everything surrounding the film, I really had a lack of investment in the story and characters. Loose narratives can work, but I wasn’t interested enough to be constantly interested. In fact, the more I think about the movie, the worse it gets for me. Honestly, I would consider this to be Paul Thomas Anderson’s worst movie but I wouldn’t call it outright bad, the performances were great and so was the direction. I am aware I’m probably in a minority of people who aren’t loving it, and it is worth checking out at the very least.