From its adorable high school meet-cute of seemingly serendipitous fate at its opening, Licorice Pizza lays the grounded work for a coming of age romantic adventure. To call this a comedy doesn’t feel big or appropriate enough, as the film is one journey after another, strung throughout a forever circle of friendship and fondness and affection. Comedy ensues for sure - direct and sometimes awkwardly - but it’s the growing charms between boy and girl that are more pronounced than anything, of course. And those charms are defined by the ups and downs experienced in a world of immature and awful adults.
Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted yet another masterpiece, this time in the vein of Bringing Up Baby meets The Goonies. Well, almost meets The Goonies. Screwballs are all around, from the characters to the overall attitude of the picture, primarily in the adults of the film. Against a grain, Licorice Pizza reverses roles by having grown-ups play as adolescents, while the teens and twenty-somethings are those with more wisdom, at least for the two leads, and at least in fits and bursts. The movie has a loosey-goosey sense of being and a strength of awareness from moment to moment, which absolutely bonds our fools together, who aren’t nearly as self-absorbed and nuts as everyone around them.
I’m reminded of the trailer for Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead, and the push-in on a security guard's face, saying with assurance “Don’t make me take off my sunglasses!” That movie is distinctly different from P.T. Anderson’s of course, but that one moment shares a similar kind of humor - almost manic but completely sharp. Licorice Pizza is entirely sharp, guided by a mind revisiting a time and place changing but stuck in a particular mood.
A manic one? Yes.
For sure, it’s the chemistry between Cooper Hoffman (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son) and Alana Haim that pulls focus. The world through their eyes and each other through their feelings are equally alive, as environments difficult but worth traversing. The two play roles with an age gap (Hoffman being the fifteen-year-old and Haim being a young adult in her twenties), something seen as controversial (predatory even), but their relationship never crosses the line. It’s all so sweet and fair, mostly just one of strong affection and easy love than anything too much to handle. It’s as nice as a kiss on the cheek.
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The two are portrayed with inverted roles as the film moves along, with Hoffman becoming more serious and Haim becoming more naive than either was at the beginning. This is due to their interactions with the aforementioned zany and problematic adults that inhabit the tale, specifically Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper, who play versions of well-known figures in 70s California, filled with no responsibility and all nerves. Their supporting performances are stand-outs, being strange and unhinged, but writing for myself, it was all about Hoffman and Haim and how they witnessed and reacted to everything, between the two and outside of their relationship.
Where Phantom Thread was a romantic horror of sorts (or horror romance?), Licorice Pizza is indeed a romantic screwball adventure, hilarious and lovely. Every P.T. Anderson film, especially There Will Be Blood, has dealt in forms of heart or in a void of it. Most movies do actually in some way, but with Anderson, in this outing, he’s full-tilt heart. Not innocence, not “soul,” but heart. And at the heart of Licorice Pizza is an adventure, just not of the Indiana Jones kind. Not really.
Maybe as whimsical. As "giddy as a schoolboy,” to reference a certain flick. 5/5