What kind of content in a movie becomes a line in the sand that you can’t cross? It’s one of the messier subjects facing creative work of all kinds, and it only seems to get messier and messier with each passing day. It’s both deeply personal and prone to creating extreme responses, whether it’s the content of the material itself or real issues surrounding one of the creators. And Paul Thomas Anderson walked into that swamp with both feet in it Licorice Pizza— a film that many people love, that some people find repulsive, and that generated the kind of polarizing discourse that can make people dread expressing any opinion.
This is not a review of the other reviews of Licorice Pizza, but it’s hard for the swirling extremes of the conversation not to creep into an analysis. And the kind of movie that Licorice Pizza that is to say, it is even more impossible to avoid thinking of it as the old parable of the blind men and the elephant – a situation where everyone is somewhat right, depending on which party they end up hanging on.
Because Licorice Pizza is less a narrative than a diorama in which Anderson can display all of his favorite anecdotes about his childhood in the San Fernando Valley in the early 1970s. The framing structure of these anecdotes involves the relationship between two unusual characters: Gary (Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, with whom Anderson frequently worked), a 15-year-old child actor coming out of his cute phase; and Alana (Alana Haim, of The Haim Group, whom Anderson worked with frequently), the 25-year-old student photography company employee that Gary falls for. And they find themselves intertwined as Gary explores the growth business opportunities of the time, like selling waterbeds and opening a pinball machine.
Anderson spent 25 years making films filled with captivating settings, so there was no doubt that his episodic storytelling would produce some great moments. A few of them involve actors having fun with cameo roles: Sean Penn as a pseudonymous macho actor who intoxicated attempts a dangerous stunt, and Bradley Cooper as real-life producer Jon Peters. . The latter involves one of the craziest emotional rollercoaster movie sequences of the year, with Cooper conjuring up a coke mania that’s both hilarious and downright terrifying. While Anderson manages to successfully apply a nostalgic reminiscence gauze to such unlikely things as the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, he also finds ways to make his stories gritty and consequential.
That’s not to say it can’t also feel some of its big swings, like a pair of scenes involving John Michael Higgins as a restaurateur given to talking to Japanese women in an over-the-top pidgin dialect, with no real interest in pursuing. what it involves beyond a wide strike line. Anderson also doesn’t really seem to know what to do with a subplot involving hidden homosexuality, except as something that impacts the lives of our protagonists. Two things may be true: that Anderson is a gifted filmmaker, and that those talents don’t exempt him from occasional deafness.
It therefore seems odd that the most controversial element to emerge from Licorice Pizza was the age difference between the two main characters and whether Anderson romances an inappropriate/illegal relationship. You could go around in circles for days about what’s and isn’t going on in this relationship — literally zero sex, for example, versus hand-holding and lots of running — but it seems ultimately more relevant to consider the role he plays in Alana’s character arc. Haim’s performance is nothing short of charming, brimming with natural on-screen charisma, but Anderson takes her on an eerie journey as to what it means as the directionless Alana clings to the upward momentum. forward of a go-getter teenager; he seems to celebrate that Alana sees Gary as a legitimate alternative to the other disappointments in her life, rather than finding it a little depressing.
For some people the worst thing about Licorice Pizza seems to be what could going on between Alana and Gary, rather than what’s actually going on Is it that happen between them. When things get complicated in a movie, it’s hard to find straight answers.