Sixteen year old, Gary Valentine, played by Cooper Hoffman, in his film debut, is instantly taken with twenty-five year old, Alana Kane, portrayed by Alana Haim, in her film debut. Gary meets Alana at his high school. She is there assisting a photographer, who is taking yearbook photos. Gary begins talking to Alana. He follows her everywhere she goes, telling her snippets about his life. The viewer will learn that Gary isn’t just another teenage boy with carnal fantasies. In addition to being a child actor, who is slowly aging out of that category, but hasn’t yet reached the point where he can audition for adult parts; he is also an entrepreneur. Gary owns a public relations company, which his mother Anita (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), manages for him. Not wanting to end their conversation, Gary asks Alana to join him later that evening at his favorite restaurant. As Alana is saying so long to Gary, she intimates that there is no way she’s going to meet him. Gary dismisses her negative attitude. Alana does windup meeting him at the restaurant, which sets the remainder of the film in motion. (As an aside: Cooper Hoffman is the son of Oscar winner, the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote). Alana Haim, is a member, along with her sisters, of the Grammy nominated rock band Haim).
Despite their age difference, and the fact that Alana, rightfully so, refuses to be anything more than friends with Gary, the two form a close knit bond. The film showcases their experiences, which range from everything from humorous, to light hearted romance, and a well executed action sequence that involves the navigation of a truck that has run out of gas. The backdrop for the experiences takes place in the San Fernando Valley, California, in 1973. Alana might be ten years Gary’s senior, but in many respects, he is further along in life than she is. He has ambition and direction, and has already accomplished some things of merit in his life. Conversely, she still lives at home, hasn’t as of the time she meets Gary aspired to any sort of profession; and except for a chance encounter inadvertently set up by Gary is devoid of romantic prospects. Through Gary, Alana will learn she has a good mind for business, and is also a competent actress, as she is told as she begins to go on auditions.
While the film never loses it focus on Gary and Alana, the supporting cast is comprised of some well known actors. Two time Oscar winner Sean Penn (Milk), plays Jack Holden, a character styled after Oscar winner William Holden (Stalag 17). In 1973, William Holden starred in four time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood’s “Breezy” as Frank Harmon. Harmon’s character has a love affair with the much younger Breezy played by Emmy winner Kay Lenz (Midnight Caller). In “Licorice Pizza” when Alana is going on auditions, her interaction with Penn’s character is supposed to mirror that of Holden and Lenz, the way their relationship was on screen, not in real life. BAFTA winner Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born), brings a manic energy to the film as real-life Hollywood producer Jon Peters. He makes it a point to let Gary and his friends know that he is dating two time Oscar winner and nine time Grammy winner Barbara Streisand (The Broadway Album). Fans of Cooper might be disappointed that his cumulative screen time doesn’t amount to much, but he makes the most out of the scenes that he is in. Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems) plays Joel Wach, an ambitious politician, who is harboring a secret from his constituents. Furthermore, Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner Tom Waits (One from the Heart), plays the part of Rex Blau, a friend of Jack Holden, who isn’t afraid to turn a slow evening, into a risky challenge. Four time Emmy winner Maya Rudolph (Saturday Night Live), has a very brief appearance; blink and you’ll miss her part as a casting agent in the film.
“Licorice Pizza” was written and directed by BAFTA winner Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood). The film premiered on November 20, 2021 in Westwood, California. Parts comedy, drama, and romance, the movie has a runtime of 133 minutes. The film features an eclectic score, composed by two time Oscar nominee Jonny Greenwood (The Phantom Thread). The selections for the film’s soundtrack synchs up perfectly with what is transpiring on screen. Additionally, excellent work was done by two time Oscar winner Mark Bridges (The Artist) for his authentic costume designs that captured the clothing styles of the early 1970s.
Trivia buffs take note: “Licorice Pizza” was the name of a record store chain in California, it was eventually bought out by Sam Goody. Furthermore, “Licorice Pizza” is a slang term for a vinyl record. Alana’s family is played by her real-life family members. George DiCaprio, the father of Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) plays a small role in the film. During the time period the movie takes place, DiCaprio was a known person in the California art scene, especially as it pertained to underground art. Councilman Joel Wach is not a fictional character written for the movie. Wach served for more than thirty years as a councilman in Los Angeles. During one portion of the movie, ads for Wach’s campaign are being filmed. The director of those ads, at the time, was a then unknown Jonathan Demme, who would go onto win the Oscar for Best Director for “Silence of the Lambs.”
From the outset of reading this review, for those of you who haven’t seen the film, you might have had the initial reaction that the relationship between Alana and Gary, despite it being platonic, sounded a bit suspect. If you watch the film, you’ll see that it is really not at all like that. Paul Thomas Anderson infuses the movie with a charm, and a nostalgic take on where he grew up, and still lives. Cooper and Haim display excellent on-screen chemistry, and I am interested to see what roles the two of them take on next.