Coming of age films come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes they are set in the modern-day, but more often than not they are set in the past. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza finds its setting in 1970s Los Angeles.
This film focuses on a fifteen-year-old zit-faced, ginger-haired high school student who is also an actor (Cooper Hoffman). While walking to the gymnasium for school pictures, he runs into an older girl (Alana Haim) holding a mirror up trying to help kids get their hair in order before pictures. They start talking to one another and one thing leads to another and they have set up a date at a local bar.
Their chemistry is instantaneous with each other. The young man is smitten by the good looks and fashion sense of the young woman and the young woman is impressed by the young man’s quick wit and fast-talking ability. They become close friends, but not romantically linked. He asks the woman to help him by being his chaperone for a cross country trip and she meets another boy who’s closer in age. The main man is discouraged by this turn of events and vows to get her back.
Paul Thomas Anderson has made his fair share of great films in the more than two decades he’s been a filmmaker. Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood are just a few of them. His last film, Phantom Thread, was a big hit during the awards season. He aims for the same with Licorice Pizza. This is the first time he’s tackled a full-on coming-of-age film during his tenure as a film director. He really captured the nuance of the two leads and their lives, and the world they exist in perfectly.
Even though the film features two incredible performances from its leads, more so Haim, the film also has some interesting supporting characters in it as well. Bradley Cooper plays Jon Peters, a Hollywood producer. His character is a bit wild and eccentric. Sean Penn plays William Holden, an actor of that era, Tom Waits plays Rex Blau, and Benny Safdie (director with his brother of Good Time and Uncut Gems) plays a politician running for mayor.
The film’s story is so light, refreshing, and interesting and it sucks you in. The characters are very relatable and likable as well. That’s the strong point of the film. The cinematography is amazing. It was like this film was actually filmed in the ’70s. The film had enough grain to make it look authentic to the time period. The score by Jonny Greenwood was great. The set production and production value were incredible. The storefronts and restaurants looked real. The hairstyles and costume departments were on point. The clothes looked amazing. This film looked and felt as real as any film could be that was set during this time and place in California’s San Fernando Valley.
Licorice Pizza is one of PTA’s best films of his career. He got a lot of big celebrity guest stars for this film, but the two leads are worth the price of admission, especially Alana Haim. She is a revelation. She just had so much energy and vibrancy to her character. I felt so close to her as a viewer watching from my seat in the theater. She’s the breakout star of the year and she could sneak into the Best Actress race come Oscar season. Her friendship with Hoffman’s character felt very real.
There is so much to like about this film! The soundtrack is another of the positives in a long line. An original song by Jonny Greenwood is the title track of the film, but songs by Nina Samone, Paul McCartney, and David Bowie are scattered throughout this film. They all just fit in so perfectly it’s almost like they were already there. I love a good ’70s soundtrack.
This film was so much fun. I rarely have as much fun with a film as I did watching this one. It was a perfect mix of great acting, directing, vibe, and look and there haven’t been many films like this all year. This is definitely in the mix for Best Picture, Screenplay, Actress, and a few other below-the-line categories at the 2022 Academy Awards. I enjoyed this film immensely.
Dan skip Allen
Founder/EIC disappointment media