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‘Licorice Pizza’: An instant classic

| Friday, January 21, 2022

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

Paul Thomas Anderson is the mastermind behind some of the finest films to grace the silver screen in recent memory, directing masterpieces such as “There Will Be Blood,” “The Master” and “Phantom Thread.” While these three films are known for their extreme precision in both visuals and storytelling, Anderson elected to take a different approach to his latest film “Licorice Pizza.” Instead of the painfully meticulous craft on display found in his work in the 2000s, Anderson opts for the laidback vibe of films like “Dazed and Confused,” “American Graffiti” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

“Licorice Pizza” follows the beginning of a romance between Gary (Cooper Hoffman) and Alana (Alana Haim). It’s a story of self-discovery, the wistful melancholia of growing up, infatuation, jealousy and youth. However, plot is not a primary concern of “Licorice Pizza.” The audience is immersed in the world of the film. It’s a slice-of-life film, which may rub some viewers the wrong way, but I think it’s the only way this story could have been told. Come and hang out for a bit, explore the San Fernando Valley, get to know the characters and tag along for some of their wacky hijinks as they toy around with the idea of maybe falling in love.

Watching this film feels like hanging out with your crush at sunset during the summer, full of fast-talking, fast walking, aimless driving, hidden smiles and wistful stolen glances. Much like one of these nights, the film is meandering and chaotic, but in the best possible way. The audience is never clued into what will happen next, and despite the wacky early 70s Hollywood types that occasionally turn up in the film, the film feels as true to life as something like “The Last Picture Show.” This is not Neo-Realism, instead, is a kind of realism that captures what it’s like to be a teenager, as though we are watching the memories of Gary and Alana’s summer romance from some time in the future, with a romanticized and colorful filter tinting our perception of them.

There is an electricity to “Licorice Pizza,” a kind of beneath-the-surface energy that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat, which is only bolstered by the chemistry between Hoffman and Haim. “Licorice Pizza” marks the screen debut for both actors and they both make the absolute most of their time on screen, they both bring an authenticity to their characters that isn’t seen all that often. The subtle intensity, spontaneity, naturalism and poise brought by these first-timers is absolutely unbelievable.

As with every Paul Thomas Anderson film, “Licorice Pizza” is beautifully shot with Anderson and Michael Bauman sharing the director of photography credit. The duo opted to shoot the film on 35mm filmstock and use vintage lenses to achieve the texture of a ‘70s film, a choice that paid off spectacularly. Each shot of “Licorice Pizza” feels alive and is rife with lush colors and beautiful composition.

“Licorice Pizza” is among the most real feeling movies I’ve seen in a long time. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time despite the only real suspense being the classic “will they/won’t they” storyline. The chemistry between Hoffman and Haim is undeniable and is made all the more electric by Anderson’s impeccable script, direction, eye for visuals and brilliant soundtrack choices. An undeniable instant classic of the Hangout Flick subgenre, “Licorice Pizza” perfectly captures the awkward and monumental feelings of teenage affection and infatuation. Sure, the feelings may be fleeting, but in the moment, nothing could possibly matter more.

Title: “Licorice Pizza”

Starring: Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

If You Like: “Dazed and Confused” “Boogie Nights”

Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5

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