Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim make their debut with flying colors in Licorice Pizza

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Gary Goetzman had a storied career as a Hollywood producer, but it was his early years, when he combined a career as a child actor with that of a waterbed salesman, that formed the basis of Licorice Pizza (15A), written and directed by his friend Paul Thomas Anderson.

The film opens in the early 1970s, with the fictional Goetzman, a 15-year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman), chatting with the photographer’s assistant Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and – undeterred by the fact that ‘she’s ten years older – asking him out on a date.

What follows is an offbeat comedy-romance, as Gary and Alana become partners in a waterbed franchise while trying to break into Hollywood films.

Licorice Pizza might prove an acquired taste for some: the film isn’t just set in the ’70s, but uses the aesthetic that was prevalent at the time, resulting in a meandering, picaresque plot that tends to focus on the more eccentric aspects of the characters and the story (Alana overturning a truck on one of the winding canyon roads in Los Angeles, for example, doesn’t sound like much, but in context, it’s a bravery movie).

Not content with that, Anderson is also casting a few unknowns in lead roles, with musician Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman (Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son) both making their feature film debuts, their fictional characters crossing paths with historic Hollywood under the form of Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper), Lucille Ball (Christine Ebersole) and William Holden (Sean Penn).

The focus is firmly on Haim and Hoffman, however, who are both brilliant at crafting the awkward tenderness of their unconventional romance. (cinema release)

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