Licorice Pizza

by Toby Woollaston

Verdict: A sweet slice of warm nostalgia.

Unlike the unsettling culinary combination that the title suggests, Licorice Pizza is perhaps one of Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s mildest films. Gone is the fevered confusion of Inherent Vice, the burning intensity of There Will be Blood, or the ambitious orchestration of Magnolia. Rather, Licorice Pizza is a giant exhale of warm nostalgia.

Relatively plot-lite, Licorice Pizza is a snapshot that marks a breezy stroll through youthful life in seventies Los Angeles. The film focuses on Gary (played by Cooper Hoffman), a likeable sweet-talking entrepreneur-minded teenager who meets Alana (Alana Haim), a woman in her twenties who works for the school photographer. What follows is not a romance, exactly, or a buddy flick, but something deeper, transitory, and difficult to grasp. Their relationship is an odd coupling, warm, interesting, at times hilarious, but peculiar nonetheless.

Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) wonderfully captures the uncertainty of youth—a starry-eyed teen vacillating at the border of adulthood. Haim (one-third of the indie sister band, Haim) delivers a powder keg performance, one who is ensconced in adulthood but is drawn away by Gary’s boyish charms. Behind the pair of fresh-faced leads is an army of a-listers chiming in with bit parts, most notably Bradley Cooper’s super-charged bearded producer from the Hollywood hills is a lot of fun.

The film meanders in the middle third and is often distracted by its own soundtrack. But while tropes and archetypes of seventies cinema are generously folded into the film’s mix, it never succumbs to unintentional pastiche and at its heart Licorice Pizza is a sweetly affectionate portrait of two people at life’s many crossroads.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.