Licorice Pizza Review: PTA crafts a timelessly touching coming of age love story
In the spirit of 70s-set coming of age films like Dazed and Confused and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson offers a more personal narrative of young love with his latest film Licorice Pizza.
Anderson immerses viewers into Licorice Pizza’s 1973 San Fernando Valley setting through more than just simple aesthetics. Sure, the faded colors and styles of classic cars and clothes, music choices, and the looks of certain characters like Bradley Coopers’ version of Jon Peters totally evoke the feel of that era on their own. However, Anderson adds some deeper historical threads and trends to the budding relationship of Gary (Cooper Hoffman) and Alana (Alana Haim) that fit nicely with their story of growing up in this time. It’s fun to see water beds play a fun role in Gary’s attempts to make a name for himself with how he tries to be at the forefront of the fad just to have it squashed by the 1973 Oil Crisis.
There’s this organic historical timeline built throughout Licorice Pizza that adds more layers to Gary and Alana trying to make it in San Fernando. The Oil Crisis acts a great shift in the attitude and atmosphere of the area that’s fitting for where Gary and Alana’s dynamic is at and the addition of delving into Pinball gaining legality and these two trying to get into the film industry at a young age create interesting story beats that flesh out real issues from the time. Anderson really makes San Fernando its own character with how these historical events and some familiar character names float throughout the film and it ends up being a dynamic location for Gary and Alana to go through major changes in their personal lives and their relationship.
It’s kind of amazing how both Hoffman and Haim instantly have your heart with the distinct charm and personality they bring to their respective characters that couldn’t be more different from each other. Hoffman makes Gary’s hustler-like charm surprisingly heartwarming and believable with the great charisma he brings to every interaction he has. Even though it’s obvious that Gary is constantly selling himself in just about every conversation he has, you can’t help but just love him and there’s something really special about seeing Hoffman work with Anderson given that Hoffman’s late father, Philip Seymour Hoffman, worked so closely with Anderson throughout his career. Haim is equally great with the unique brand of charm she brings through Alana’s rough and tough attitude that stems from her still being at home in her mid-20s. Alana’s bluntness is easily one of her best qualities as it showcases her realness that is sometimes absent from Gary and it makes her inner frustration of her place in life very relatable and meaningful.
Both Hoffman and Haim are the perfect centerpiece to Licorice Pizza’s coming of age story and they really make the funnier aspects of Gary and Alana’s story land excellently. Licorice Pizza has a lot of great humor to it that hits so well because of how connected they are to the characters. It’s always hilarious to see Gary have to eat an unexpected slice of humble pie when his ambitions and attempts at acting mature put him in tough spots. Alana’s angst and blunt behavior make for some really funny interactions between her and friends, family, and pretty much everyone. There are also some very memorable supporting performances from Cooper and Sean Penn as Jack Holden that show them unleashing their wildly crazy sides.
Licorice Pizza’s greatest strengths are in the superbly touching and unique coming of age story Anderson’s crafted. While Gary and Alana’s story is mostly about first love as their relationship goes through warm and rocky waves that constantly test their maturity and challenges their views of life, it’s really about how their relationship helps them individually grow. Although Gary believes that his charming persuasion and unflinching confidence in himself makes him mature, his ambitions don’t stretch as far as he thinks, and his childish jealousy constantly shows when he feels like he doesn’t have Alana in his pocket. Often, Gary’s attempts to escape his age causes unseen hardships, yet there are these moments that do show a more genuine side of Gary that’s heartwarming and more adult. Alana’s story is even more compelling with it touching on a different kind of coming-of-age story as she struggles to find her place in the world and to view Gary as enough.
As Alana attempts to push herself forward in life and feels like she can’t escape her current place in life, she is constantly trying to establish relationships with generally older men that appear more successful and be something more than Gary’s partner. It’s genuinely admirable and inspiring to watch Alana make a name for herself and it’s what makes it gut-wrenching to see her struggle and fail at times because her story is so relatable and engaging. Where Gary can seem narcissistic, Alana stays real and it’s really fascinating to watch her try to grow up, but be constantly pulled back towards Gary. Both Gary and Alana’s stories are about them finding themselves and eventually finding each other and it makes for a timelessly touching tale of love and growth.
Licorice Pizza is undoubtedly one of the most fulfilling films of the year as Anderson has lovingly crafted a capsule of the 70s as well as a touching coming of age love story that features two of the best performances of the year from Hoffman and Haim and some satisfyingly hilarious and heartfelt growth.