Photo | Focus Features
If you accidentally put off watching “Licorice Pizza,” like I did, rent it immediately and be delighted. A madcap, meandering trip to 1970s California, this comedy is full of unexpected action and unforgettable characters, including brief, insane cameos from well-known stars and magnetic, natural performances from Alana Haim, of the band Haim, and Cooper Hoffman, son of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, himself a frequent collaborator with “Licorice Pizza” director Paul Thomas Anderson.
Cooper plays Gary, a 15-year-old child actor whose career explains his high level of confidence and initiative. Haim plays Alana, a 25-year-old who still lives at home and works various odd jobs. It is as an assistant to a school photographer that she meets Gary, who applies himself to wooing her immediately, despite their age difference. Gary is a hustling little man child, with a regular table at Tail o’ the Cock, a San Fernando Valley hangout, and an entrepreneurial spirit that is hilariously indefatigable.
While Alana is the older of the pair, she is arguably further behind in growing up. Some have complained about the age difference between the potential lovers, but I think the differences in their characters are the point. A 25-year-old woman might hang out with a 15-year-old boy if she was immature. Gary, on the other hand, is reminiscent of Max Fischer from “Rushmore” in how he swims confidently in adult waters. The consequences of the mismatch are the most compelling part.
Once Gary and Alana become friends, their adventures together include attending a television show taping in New York City, launching a water bed business, launching a pinball business and encounting a raging hairdresser who is trying to go on a date with Barbra Streisand, but due to the real gas shortage at that time, is forestalled. This memorable sequence features Bradley Cooper as a real person named Jon Peters, and in a film full of wonderful, funny moments, his sequence is the most outrageous.
Or, perhaps the most outrageous part is when Tom Waits runs into Sean Penn at that same Tail o’ the Cock restaurant, on a date with Alana while she is vaguely attempting an acting career. Waits builds a huge fire pit on a golf course for Penn to jump a motorcycle over. It is a testament to the easy watchability of the film’s two young stars that even with these wild older men on screen, you want to look for the young friends and see how they fare.
Naturally, in a period film like this, nostalgia is a big part of the appeal, but the nostalgia is not just for the perfectly hazy 1970s details; it is for youth itself. These two striving kids and their ever-evolving business ventures are just incredibly fun to watch. Everywhere they go, they run there. It is the perfect movie as summer approaches, like “Dazed and Confused” with more psychologically developed and realistic characters.
“Licorice Pizza,” named after a defunct chain of record stores, is wonderful just to experience, to hang out in. I guess I prefer rambling Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “Inherent Vice,” “Licorice Pizza”) to austere Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood,” “The Master,” “Phantom Thread”). He is certainly a master of whatever kind of story he sets out to tell. The performances he gets from his young stars are natural, riveting, wonderful. It’s one of those movies you know is already one of your favorites halfway through, and you know you’ll revisit it many more times.
“Licorice Pizza” is now available to stream.
New This Week:
“The Bad Guys”: After years of countless heists and being the world’s most-wanted villains, the gang is finally caught. Mr. Wolf brokers a deal (that he has no intention of keeping) to save them all from prison: The Bad Guys will go good. Under the tutelage of their mentor Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade, “Paddington 2”), an arrogant (but adorable!) guinea pig, The Bad Guys set out to fool the world that they’ve been transformed. All listed multiplex theaters.
“The Northman”: From visionary director Robert Eggers comes an action-filled epic that follows a young Viking prince on his quest to avenge his father’s murder. An all-star cast includes Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk and Willem Dafoe. All listed multiplex theaters.
“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”: Unfulfilled and facing financial ruin, actor Nicolas Cage (playing himself) accepts a $1 million offer to attend a wealthy fan’s birthday party. Things take a wildly unexpected turn when a CIA operative recruits Cage for an unusual mission. Taking on the role of a lifetime, he soon finds himself channeling his most iconic and beloved characters to save himself and his loved ones. Crescent Theater, all listed multiplex theaters.
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here