Paul Thomas Anderson is a name well-known among film critics. From Boogie Nights to There Will Be Blood, he’s made his mark on Hollywood over the years. Now, his upcoming release of Licorice Pizza is expected to be another awards darling and is arguably his best film yet.
Licorice Pizza is a coming-of-age story set in the San Fernando Valley in 1973. It follows Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman), a fictional child actor who is loosely based on Gary Goetzman. It’s love at first sight when he meets Alana Kane (Alana Haim), a photographer’s assistant working on yearbook photo day at Gary’s high school. Unfortunately for 15-year-old Gary, Alana is 25 and isn’t interested in dating him, but Gary’s charm wears her down enough to make them fast friends.
The film follows the close-knit relationship between Gary and Alana as Gary hustles his way through acting, owning multiple businesses, and life in general. He may be 15 through most of the film, but he acts like a big-shot adult, and that’s a good portion of the charm found in Licorice Pizza. With the age difference, it’s hard to imagine Alana falling for Gary, but you still end up rooting for him throughout the film.
While the budding relationship between Gary and Alana is the primary focus of the film, there are plenty of thoroughly entertaining side characters that come and go. The pacing of new characters being introduced throughout Licorice Pizza is reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino film.
Jack Holden (Sean Penn) is based on seasoned acting veteran, William Holden, and is as smooth as they come. Jerry Frick (John Michael Higgins) opened the first Japanese restaurant in the Valley and serves as comic relief. But the show-stopping performance of Bradley Cooper as a film producer, Jon Peters, is the crown jewel of Licorice Pizza. Peters is only featured in a small portion of the film, but we’d gladly welcome a feature-length film focused on this character in the future.
There are a number of twists and turns throughout the film, with each new career venture or character introduction further pulling the audience in. The film runs just over two hours, but you’ll leave the theater wanting to spend more time with this renewed look at the mid-70s. While there are several standout roles, every character grabs your attention, no matter how briefly they’re on screen.
It’s difficult to find fault in Anderson’s work here, either with his polished and highly entertaining script, or his directorial abilities. Phantom Thread, Anderson’s last film, was good, but the period piece was a slow burn that wasn’t for everyone. Licorice Pizza removes any and all barriers (aside from the R rating), becoming one of Anderson’s best.
About Licorice Pizza
Synopsis: The story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around, and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper, Tom Waits
Runtime: 2 Hours, 13 Minutes
Releases: December 25th, 2021 (USA)
Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.