Licorice Pizza – Film Review

I have always been a big sucker for a good coming of age story.

Whether it be one with a difference like Acolytes or one that is a little more traditional like Almost Famous, I always find them intriguing to watch because I feel that it is the one genre that every filmmaker can put a little bit of themselves into. After all, we were all teenagers once.

It was because of that intrigue that my interest was sparked when I discovered that director Paul Thomas Anderson was making a coming-of-age film. Anderson has been a director that I have felt to drawn to ever since I obtained a VHS copy of Boogie Nights. He has a style of filmmaking that fascinates me; a style that reminds me of the reason why I fell in love with cinema in the first place. He doesn’t go for over the top action or set pieces, instead he likes to capture the environment in which the film is set and tells a good story while he has his audience immersed within it.

His latest film, Licorice Pizza, puts his audience in a time machine and takes them back to the early 70s, to a time when kids had the freedom to dream without the pressures of social media and the likes that we endure today.

Anderson’s hero Gary, Cooper Hoffman in his acting debut, is a teenager who has made a career for himself as a child actor. From the money he has earned, he sets up a small business which sees him sell whatever fad is in fashion at that time, always seeking to jump on anything that will help make him money.

One day at school, he meets school photography assistant Alana, first-time actress Alana Haim, a woman that he says he instantly knows is the woman that he wants to marry one day. However, being older than Gary, Alana decides that she is not as eager for a relationship as he is, instead seeming to take pleasure stringing him along as she tries to advance in a number of ways both professionally and romantically. Meanwhile Gary goes from scheme to scheme doing whatever he can to try and get Alana involved so that she can be close to him.

I can be honest and say that this is not the kind of film that the average popcorn film fan is going to enjoy. Anderson’s films rarely are. Instead, I found what he has created here appears to take on the feel of the TV show The Wonder Years mixed with the quirkiness that seems to come with Anderson’s films.

One of the thrills that I found with this film, is the fact that with Anderson’s style of filmmaking, you never really know what to expect next. One moment the characters are going along their merry way and the next, one is being arrested. With that sense of unpredictability, you can’t but at times wonder the consequences of the characters that you are being drawn closer to, especially when it seems like Alana is playing a dangerous game of flirtation with the likes of the crazy Jack Holden (Sean Penn).

Likewise, you find yourself wondering whether these guys that Alana is drawing into her life are going to one day have a problem with Gary. The suspense of this and their escapades, outweigh the anticipation on whether or not Gary and Alana will eventually get together.

Then there are the quirky characters that appear not only make the story move along but to bring a smile to your face as well. The king of them here is Bradley Cooper’s character Jon Peters, an unhinged actor who comes into Alana and Gary’s world when they deliver a waterbed to his home. Every minute that Cooper is on-screen is a scream and he steals the show with a brilliant performance.

Not to take anything from the two leads that Anderson has plucked from acting obscurity. Cooper Hoffman, the son of late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, has the same effortless commanding performance that his father had, while singer-turned-actress Alana Haim is a natural performer. Both of which may have been unheard of before this film, but they certainly won’t be after its release.

Licorice Pizza is highly recommended for those that like a serious story with slight pieces of quirky humour throughout. It is the kind of film where you find yourself being drawn closer and closer to the characters on-screen, even though sometimes their actions may frustrate you. This is one for the true cinephile.

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