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REVIEW – “Licorice Pizza”

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for us movie lovers. That sweet pocket of time between September and February where it seems every week a new incredible film is being released. While last year was definitely different (for lack of a better word), 2021 has come in swinging with new efforts from Edgar Wright, Wes Anderson, Ridley Scott, and Guillermo del Toro. But, if you ask me, the most exciting release of the year is far and above Licorice Pizza. Written and Directed by the one and only Paul Thomas Anderson (who I will passionately refer to as PTA for the remainder of this review), Licorice Pizza tells the story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine as the two grow up, run around and fall in love in California’s San Fernando Valley in the 1970s. While that plot description may seem hollow, this film is anything but. Licorice Pizza is pure cinematic bliss. Less concerned with plot and structure, PTA shifts his focus onto our two main characters and through their tumultuous love affair is able to discuss love, youth, ambition, self actualization, and the need to be seen. While they may sound heavy, this is anything but. Incredibly fun, light as a feather, and almost overwhelming sweet, Licorice Pizza is one of the best coming of age films I’ve ever seen.

PTA is a director I greatly admire to say the least. Having one of the most incredible bodies of work of any living filmmaker, he’s certainly a writer/director you can count on. Licorice Pizza sees him departing from the heavier themes and darker characters we’re so used to from him. Rather, he graces us with an surprisingly tender and sincere voice. This film is like a cinematic hug, and a hilarious one at that. Much closer to something like Punch Drunk Love, PTA goes all in on the comedy here and it pays off greatly. Filled with laugh out loud moments and consistently sharp and witty dialogue, this is by far the funniest film from the director yet. It’s also his most sincere. PTA captures a deeply universal feeling with Licorice Pizza, and I sat in awe with an ear to ear smile on my face.

PTA’s name is synonymous with large ensemble casts and career best performances and Licorice Pizza is no exception. Two stars are born in Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim. Both making their on screen debut here, the pair deliver one of the most watchable couples in cinematic history. I could watch 8 hours of the two of them running around LA and I wouldn’t check my watch once. Their chemistry is insane and they absolutely crush it here. To say I am excited to see what they do next would be an understatement. Sean Penn, Tom Waits, and even Benny Safdie show up briefly and all deliver excellent performances. Tom Waits and Sean Penn and delightfully deranged and Benny Safdie adds a great amount of heart and weight to the film. Bradley Cooper gives my favorite performance in the film and it might even be a career best for him. He is absolutely hilarious and steals every scene he’s in. He is pure electricity and although he is only in the film for a short time, almost steals the entire show.

To say Licorice Pizza is well made would be selling it short. This is a masterfully assembled film with great editing, beautiful cinematography and an infectious score form Johnny Greenwood. Everyone is firing on all cylinders here, which is to be expected from a PTA film. At this point in the review, I would get to the negatives. But, in truth I have none. This is yet again another masterpiece from PTA. We’re so spoiled. 5/5

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