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licorice pizza.jpeg
licorice pizza

director: paul thomas anderson (there will be blood, punch drunk love)

starring: alana haim, cooper hoffman, bradley cooper, and tom waits


REVIEWER: nick tonkin

The story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around, and falling in love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973.

Licorice Pizza, Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, is another idiosyncratic project from the legendary director and one that may polarise audience members, depending on the extent of their familiarity with Anderson’s previous films and style.

Licorice Pizza is something of a coming-of-age film for the two main characters, Gary Valentine and Alana Kane. Though both are at different stages of their lives; Gary is a 15-year-old actor and Alana a 25-year-old photographer’s assistant, they strike up a friendship.


Given the age difference between the characters, the film doesn’t really play into the will-they-won’t-they trope, as that would be pretty weird. Instead, it explores the moments of meaningfulness they each bring into the other’s lives, through introductions made and shared experiences (both traumatic and awkward as well as the good).  

Brilliance is certainly evident at times in the film, as recognised in the seemingly universal critical acclaim Licorice Pizza has so far received. However, its loose and almost dreamy approach to storytelling might risk disengaging the viewer. Though the bursts of unexpected humour sported by the film, such as Bradley Cooper’s entire cameo, will definitely reel back in anyone resisting Licorice’s charms.

The 1970’s world the film portrays is exceptionally well realised; the clothes, cars, storefronts, hair, and soundtrack amongst so many other details all coalesce to give a real authentic feel. Combined with some engaging camerawork – such as the great tracking shot of Gary running through grid-locked traffic handing out flyers to drivers for his Waterbed store, or the film’s use of slow push-in shots on people deep in conversation, Licorice Pizza’s strength is in its sense of time and place – how real its world feels.

However, it also feels really long, much more than its 2-hour runtime. This, I think, is entirely down to how the film is plotted. It rolls from one event, place, or time to another seamlessly leading to an easy, dreamy feeling story but not a clearly signposted one. Maybe this is an intentional approach by Anderson to convey the feeling of progression of life at Gary’s age?

With its wonderfully realised 1970’s Valley California, great moments of humour, and skilled cinematography, Licorice Pizza is another interesting Paul Thomas Anderson project. Its success, however, depends entirely on how you feel about the journey it takes you on.

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