Paul Thomas Anderson’s next masterpiece marvels thanks to him and two new leads.
“Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “Punch Drunk Love,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “Phantom Thread” are among the best films from writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. Yes, I love the scene when Adam Sandler destroys a restaurant bathroom in “Punch Drunk Love” and the raining frogs scene in “Magnolia.” Sorry not sorry. And now, his latest entry “Licorice Pizza” joins the club, because of his it resonates with his classics, and stands alone as a film that loves Hollywood back in the 70s, almost the way Quentin Tarantino appreciated the 60s in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman has been cast in Anderson’s entries, and now his son Cooper Hoffman takes on the lead role as a cocky young actor, who is basically trapped in own world, while his older would-be girlfriend is in the real world. And Alana Haim, from the pop rock band Haim makes her acting debut as that girl. And seeing these two mismatched individuals collaborating together as friends, business partners, and potential lovers is handled in an old fashioned sense.
The movie is set in Los Angeles, 1973, and begins with 15-year-old Gary Valentine (Hoffman) trying and failing to sweep the 25-year-old Alana Kane (Haim) off her feet during a school yearbook photo. Then, they finally go out to dinner, where they talk about their jobs and goals. She says she forget him, but he says otherwise.
They both get into a waterbed business, and one of their clients is producer Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper), who goes ballistic at a gas station during the oil crisis. They also find themselves with auditions, and eventually, they both get involved in a campaign for politician John Wachs (Benny Safdie). She’s more concerned about what’s going on in the world than Gary is, and yet, they still collaborate together.
The all-star supporting cast also includes Sean Penn as a William Holden actor named Jack Holden; Tom Waits as filmmaker Rex Blau; Mary Elizabeth Ellis as Gary’s PR mother; Christine Ebersole as a Lucille Ball lookalike; Skylar Gisando as another young actor named Lance Kerwin; John Michael Higgins as an American businessman opening a Japanese restaurant; Maya Rudolph (Anderson’s wife) as a casting associate; Joseph Cross as a friend of Wachs, whom he tries to hook Alana up with; and John C. Reilly as Fred Gwynne A.K.A. Herman Munster.
“Licorice Pizza” is hilarious, stylish, fearless, riveting, and profound in every sense of these words. Anderson directs this movie with the kind of personality and attitude that he presented in “Boogie Nights,” and he also guides a brilliant cast, who aren’t afraid to to express themselves. Cooper Hoffman has a bit of his father in him, because of how he acts, how he runs, and how he provides the kind of humor and tone. Alana Haim is also fearless and wise as the girl, who’s smarter the average 70s girl. And out of all the cameos, the best come from Cooper, Penn, Waits, Ebersole, Higgins and Cross, who all have their moments of pure authenticity.
As with any profound PTA movie, he photographs the movie with the right lights. I love all the scenes that show the two leads running, the long camera shots of a convention where Gary starts to promote a waterbed, and how a truck has go down hill when it’s out of gas. And it uses the right kind of music from David Bowie, James Gang, and Paul McCartney, etc., to set the movie’s description.
“Licorice Pizza” is a movie that will make PTA fans feel like a million bucks. I’m one of those people. As I’ve mentioned, it serves as a throwback to his previous films, and never recycles any old tricks, and shows its affection for the period. And it knows when to tickle and move you.
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