Cinematic Candy: Why Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Licorice Pizza’ Will Sweeten Your Season

You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs
I look around me and I see it isn’t so
Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs
And what’s wrong with that?

‘Silly Love Songs’
by Paul McCartney

If the love song refuses to die, Ladies and gentleman, let us reintroduce you to the coming of age story, the cinematic trope with an arguably equivalent artistic resilience.

“It was the summer that everything changed!” “I lost my virginity…” “…my youthful idealism.” “…my very fucking soul, man!”

And what’s wrong with that…?

Licorice Pizza, a film originally titled an equally confusing Soggy Bottom, is a piece of celluloid eye-candy so likable it practically jumps off the screen and tackles you like an overly affectionate Shih Tzu, licking your face and affectionately humping your leg.

It marks the return of Paul Thomas Anderson to his own the mythically untapped Yoknapatawpha County (see: William Faulkner), the San Fernando Valley of 1970s Los Angeles.

Gary Valentine (played by Cooper Hoffman, scion of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is the kind of Kid Hustler that the major entertainment metropolises on either coast churn out a dime a dozen. He is so sure of himself and so charming in his white suit and reality distortion field that he manages to suck in Alana Kane (Alana Haim of Cali power triplets Haim), who may or may not be ten or more years older, and works for the company which has come to do his class photos.

Initial disbelief that this pimply would-be Duddy Kravitz could suck in full grown women quickly gives way when we are admitted into the floundering fish factory of Alana’s life. For as focused as Gary Is, she is instead a total fucking mess, who will grab onto any lifeline she can find (entrepreneurship, politics, greasy washed up actors…whatta ya got?)

Kane starts out as Gary’s chaperone on a press junket to New York, promoting one of those annoying 70s kids films (“I will destroy you for humiliating me!”), and quickly becomes his business partner in his very successful water bed company. (Soooo ’70s, yes.)

The only thing which seems to sway Alana away from him are the obvious statutory rape laws; but hey, it’s the ’70s, right? It’s a pre-Watergate, post-Vietnam, free-for-all bacchanalia, one that mini tycoon Gary seems to be tailor made for. He is a man of his time and place.

Gary’s home life is all ET. Dad appears to have never existed and his brother’s only job seems to be as a walking reaction shot. Same with Alana’s Jewish family: loud, lovable and hey…it turns out that it really is the whole real-life Haim family.

But it is Bradley Cooper’s Jon Peters who practically steals the movie. He can feel the Garys of the world gunning for him and he reacts by throwing tantrums and garbage cans and anything else he can get his hands on. And Sean Penn seems to be channeling a washed up Sean Penn as he saunters in as a washed up Jack Holden. Tom Waits, well…he’s just playing himself.

Still, despite the holes, the lovable ragamuffins, and the not so thinly veiled character types, it is a wonderful film. Wardrobe and hair seem to have their Oscar nominations locked. It looks beautiful, so try to see it in its blown up 70mm print that’s playing – where else? – on the two coasts. (And maybe Austin, the third coast?)

The two-hours-plus really does fly by, and just like the 1970s, you’re left with a hangover and a burning sensation that you’l tell yourself were definitely very much worth it.

Licorice Pizza is currently in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles, and opens wide via United Artists on Christmas Day.

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