Youth in California during the 1970s: drugs, s**ual tension beyond morality and toil, toil, toil. Whether Paul Thomas Anderson’s contemporary portrait LICORICE PIZZA Convinced of this, we reveal in our criticism.
OT: (Licorice Pizza CAN/USA 2021(
The plot summary
Southern California in 1973: When photos are being taken for the yearbook at his high school, 15-year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) sets his eyes on photographer’s assistant Alana (Alana Haim). Since she is ten years older, she blocks his request for a date. However, they soon meet under innocuous circumstances. A complicated friendship develops as Gary comes up with one business idea after the next, Alana is sometimes excited by them and sometimes repelled by them, and the two friends’ individual romances cause jealousy that shouldn’t be allowed…
The film title “Licorice Pizza” clearly shows what the curious audience is getting into with the latest film from “There Will Be Blood” and “Boogie Nights” director Paul Thomas Anderson. On the one hand, the film title is an extremely specific California reference: “Licorice Pizza” was the name of a Southern California chain of record stores that was popular in the 1970s, renamed in the 1980s and ultimately dissolved – so Anderson makes it clear with his film title where and when his film is made plays. But the film title can also be understood literally: pizza and “licorice” are two things that are absolutely fine on their own (although one of these two foods is likely to be significantly more popular). But very few people would claim that they belong together. And who Claiming with conviction that they belong together is likely to attract very critical attention. Definitely not a stupid title for a film in which a 15-year-old student approaches a 25-year-old woman, who tells him that his intentions are “disgusting” and “illegal” but then hangs out with him anyway.
Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) spies the woman of his dreams…
Difficult to outrageous relationships are a recurring theme in Anderson’s work, and the director always trusts in the maturity of his audience to recognize these dynamics as such, even without overly clear explanatory monologues. This continues in “Licorice Pizza” and is transferred to another elementary aspect of the film, namely the 1970s period color: Anderson, who not only directed and produced “Licorice Pizza”, but also wrote the screenplay alongside Michael Bauman acted as cameraman, makes no secret of his sentimental connection to the film’s setting: whether it’s the great fascination behind waterbeds despite all the gimmicky silliness, a joyfully opened pinball bar wrapped in invitingly warm lights, or “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Esque references to cinema and television, the stars and starlets of that time – with “Licorice Pizza” the filmmaker revives formative years of his life and lets the audience share in the special flair of that time. But like Quentin Tarantino before him, only in greater numbers, Anderson makes it unmistakably clear among all this nostalgia that the mantra that is often said “Everything was better before” either shows ignorance or successful self-deception. Everyday racism, constant sexism, fear of homophobia that influences entire life plans and a blatant lack of interest in letting young people have their youth run through what “Licorice Pizza” describes – and then there is the fact that almost no one in the lives of Gary and… Alana thinks about worryingly large age gaps in romances.
“With “Licorice Pizza,” director Paul Thomas Anderson revives formative years of his life and lets the audience share in the special flair of that time.”
This not only applies to the central “Are they friends because they want to be, or are they friends because they legally don’t want to be lovers, but do want to be one?” relationship, but also flirts and affairs within show business, which Anderson sporadically scattered throughout his story as incidental observations. Apart from Alana’s clear and emphatic assessment, made shortly after the start of the film, of how disgusting and illegal a relationship between her and Gary would be, Anderson sprinkles all of this into his film with natural casualness. On the one hand, he trusts the audience’s judgment, but on the other hand, he puts them in the shoes of his main characters, who no one takes by the hand and leads them through the thicket that is their existence in the 1970s. Gary and Alana are left alone, have no reliable role models and literally drift from one irresponsible escapade to the next. That’s exactly what Anderson captures in a wonderfully varied and yet as if from a single piece.
…only that she (Alana Haim) initially gives him the cold shoulder…
Whether Alana gets involved in a Hollywood star’s ego-flattering stunt, Gary makes a fool of himself at a show to impress Alana, or they dare to take a breakneck odyssey through winding, downhill streets: guest stars like Sean Penn (“The Gunman”) and Bradley Cooper (“Nightmare Alley”) briefly ignite the “Oh, you here too?” spark before Anderson devotes himself completely to his main characters, who don’t fit together, shouldn’t be together, and yet help each other up again and again when they fly on their faces. Cooper Hoffman and musician Alana Haim work great together, Haim in particular probably has a big film career ahead of her – if she wants to – because she can speak volumes just with a wrinkled nose. Wrapped in grainy, dark images full of sparkling lights and accompanied by numerous tonally mixed pop and rock song classics, “Licorice Pizza” becomes a highly atmospheric, compelling series of loosely connected childhood/youth anecdotes with a deliberately bitter, thought-provoking aftertaste.
“Cooper Hoffman and musician Alana Haim work great together, and Haim in particular should – if she wants – still have a big film career ahead of her.”
Conclusion: Nostalgia in salty and bittersweet – “Licorice Pizza” captures the lightness that comes with a naive youth full of experimentation, and yet describes the unpleasant truth surrounding it.
“Licorice Pizza” can be seen in USA cinemas from January 27, 2022.