“The beautiful thing about young love is the truth in our hearts that it will last forever.” – Atticus
I try to approach every new movie I see with as much unbiased opinion as I can. There are exceptions of course with certain creators. With certain filmmakers there automatically comes certain expectations, as is often a concentrated effort on the part of the filmmaker themselves. Tarantino brings about expectations of graphic violence, coarse language and vibrant dialogue. Spielberg is close-ups a.k.a the “Spielberg Face”, adventure featuring ordinary people and John Williams at the musical wheel steering the very feel of the film itself. Paul Thomas Anderson is no exception.
With PTA you expect ensemble casts, teacher and student-like relationships between its main characters and messy family dynamics. Beyond these traits you expect ironically the unexpected bursts of shocking violence. Boogie Nights is a prime example of this. I believe he does this to contrast the immoral decisions of his characters. It’s almost an unrealistic balance of fate. But the realism storms back as it pulls not just those that may have deserved let’s call it a “less than wholesome” ending but the innocence that is inevitably nearby.
In the donut scene of Boogie Nights, the robber is shot but then so is the wannabe hero sitting in the booth as well as the donut shop employee. Violence in this case may have worked but at what cost? You could even argue the robber didn’t deserve to die simply because he wanted cash, with only the threat of violence as a means to get the money. It was the action of the old man that set off the actual violence. In the end it’s the action of the robber that is ultimately to blame but the single pull of a trigger and suddenly three people are dead. The innocence is suddenly and without discrimination ripped from the room. But Don Cheadle’s character is still there; he’s innocent. At first yes and while never partaking in the violence he suddenly faces temptation as he catches a glimpse of the blood splattered cash on the ground. Rather than show concern for anyone in the room, he sees a chance to make some quick, albeit illicitly obtained, cash.
I think most people, when they hear a creator’s name, they think of their previous works. When I hear mention of PTA I think Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood specifically. So when I hear about his newest film, Licorice Pizza it comes with certain expectations, whether I want them to or not. I expect to a certain extent some of those things I listed earlier. Even in a movie about the porn industry he manages moments of indiscriminate violence. So just because the premise of his latest makes mention of young love and growing up in 1970’s California, all genial sounding I agree but this is PTA after all, expect the unexpected. The brilliance in the case of Licorice Pizza is the unexpected goes against that very expectancy of things we’ve experienced in his previous works. This is without question PTA’s most innocent and lovely film he’s ever helmed.
Licorice Pizza is an absolute delight.
My experience with LP (Licorice Pizza) was largely influenced by his previous films, specifically Boogie Nights. In fact many of the expected things do in fact show up. It’s an ensemble cast with a teacher and student-like relationship. So if these things show up why wouldn’t I expect the violence too? That’s where he subverts our expectations and sticks to the most literal understanding of the synopsis of young love and growing up in a specific era. LP is the funniest and most playful moments of Boogie Nights without any of the ugliness. The greatest tragedy the lead character experiences is rejection of the first girl he’s ever loved. However his determination won’t let him quit so easily. So tragedy or not, it’s not final. There’s more to come for him and his journey with her there the entire time.
LP is about confusion in the wake of youth. So much about being young feels so huge, so important. That’s largely due to the fact that in youth there is inherently a lack of experience only obtained through time. So a pimple on picture day is the end of the world at 15 years old. It’s only when you’re older that you realize so much of what you thought was your demise was nothing more than insignificance thrown in with lack of experience. What I’m saying is in a few years that little pimple won’t even be a distant memory. But that’s what life experience is for, to experience. In the case of LP we get to see that self discovery through the eyes of two young people with so much to look forward to while life is just barely beginning to crush them with reality. At the ripe age of 15, Gary goes through his first dose of reality in the form of women. What a harsh lesson they can be, am I right? Harsh maybe but I think undoubtedly necessary.
Gary, played by the son of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cooper Hoffman, is star of Licorice Pizza, his first starring role. First starring role in a PTA movie? Not a bad way to start. Alana is played by Alana Haim, of HAIM sisters fame. Together they create a relationship that is always complicated and always amazing to watch. They are emphatic at every turn as they face that ever ridiculous youth we all deal with at some point. Gary is enthusiastic about everything, as are many actors, which of course Gary is and Cooper plays him to perfection. If you see this film I promise you will forget this is his first film. He has the confidence and prowess of a seasoned actor well beyond his years. For a character that must make those around him believe he is older than a teen Cooper is the perfect choice to bring such a performance to the silver screen. He is nothing short of a revelation as is his partner throughout this lovely story, Alana.
Alana, by Alana, is vivacious and tenacious as a young woman determined to find her way in life, all obstacles be damned. Her interactions with Gary are a genuine joy that doesn’t come along nearly enough in cinema. As much as this is about these two young people it’s also about the experience of anyone that grew up in Southern California during the seventies as gas shortages plagued the nation and the uncertainties of Vietnam loomed large, especially over the youth of the United States.
But again, his subversions of impending violence and major burdens give way to things far simpler and much more wholesome. This is a different side of Paul Thomas Anderson, a side we’ve glimpsed here and there but never been allowed to witness in its full glory. Licorice Pizza is that side in full sunlight with arms wide open to a world of possibilities.
While in no way a family film, this is something we should all see at some point in our lives. It is about life and love and loss of things intangible. Licorice Pizza is one of the best films of 2021. This is transcendent filmmaking.
Rated R For: language, sexual material and some drug use
Runtime: 133 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Starring: Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim, Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper
Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson
Out of 10 Nerdskulls
Story: 9/ Acting: 10/ Directing: 10/ Visuals: 9
OVERALL: 10 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below:
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