Licorice Pizza Review

Since this was announced I was looking forward to seeing this. I’m a big fan of Paul Thomas Anderson and this looked like a more personal film of his and usually I find his more comedic films to be well done. However, I ended up being pretty disappointed by this and left the cinema being underwhelmed.

The film focuses on Gary Valentine, an actor living in the San Fernando Valley in 1973, who meets Alana Kane, a photographer’s assistant. The two start a friendship with each other, with Gary soon going into business, setting up a waterbed company, and Alana getting her hand into acting. The film shows the lives of Gary and Alana over the year, and includes events like the election campaign of Joel Wachs and the OPEC Oil Crisis. This does have a more laid back style, feeling more like a hangout movie, but I ended up finding the whole thing to be a bit too disjointed. Even in other hangout films there is a more natural flow between the scenes, but here I found the film lurched from scene to scene with no real flow to it. There are individual moments which I found engaging, but on the whole the film didn’t quite work for me.

The humour in the film also felt a bit hit and miss for me. There are some moments which made me laugh quite a bit, mainly the scenes involving Jon Peters, but more often than not the humour was just okay to me. Then there are the scenes with John Michael Higgins, which completely fell flat. Throughout these scenes I wasn’t sure whether we were meant to laugh with or at the characters and the jokes about Japanese people in these scenes made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

The relationship between Gary and Alana also felt a bit mixed to me. The parts that work are mainly because of the performances from Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim. The chemistry they have with each other is electric and the dialogue between the two makes for some compelling moments. Individually though their characters are a bit mixed. Alana is easily the more compelling character and Haim is a powerful presence throughout the film and Hoffman does a good job at selling the more business minded aspects of Gary. However, I felt that some parts of the writing for the friendship between Gary and Alana came across as a bit toxic and ended up making Gary pretty unlikable at the end of the film. As I said there are some strong moments that they have, but it is more due to the performances than the writing.

The other performances are pretty solid. Sean Penn and Tom Waits have a compelling presence in their scenes, even though their characters are fairly underutilised and there’s a really strong performance from Benny Safdie in the third act as Joel Wachs. There are fun little appearances from Maya Rudolph and Christine Ebersole and the use of Alana Haim’s family in the film allows the dynamic of the Kane family to feel really believable. The scene stealer in the film though is Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters. A lot of the best laughs in the film come from his performance, his more threatening and unhinged characterisation of Peters is a lot of fun and matches with the general impression I’ve gotten of Peters hearing the stories from Wild Wild West and Superman Lives.

The technical elements are pretty strong throughout though. The direction from Paul Thomas Anderson is as strong as you’d expect from one of his films and the production design and costume design do a great job at evoking the feel of 1973. The music meanwhile is a mixed bag. There are some great needle drops throughout the film, which again do a good job at evoking the feel of 1973, but I felt that Jonny Greenwood’s score was underused.

Overall, I wanted to like Licorice Pizza a lot more than I did. There are some good moments in the film and the excellent performances from Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim make it an interesting watch, but the whole thing felt a bit too disjointed to me and I did find some of the characters pretty unlikable at the end. This is probably the most disappointed I’ve been in a film for a long time and I wish I enjoyed it as much as most other people.

My Rating: 3/5

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