Film Review: Licorice Pizza | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, October 6th, 2022  

Licorice Pizza

Studio: Focus Features
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Feb 23, 2022 Web Exclusive
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Director Paul Thomas Anderson is known for his slow burns, films that take their time getting to the point. There Will Be Blood (2007), The Master (2012), and Phantom Thread (2017) all follow similar plans, setting the audience up for one path only to end up miles away from where it seemed to be going. Licorice Pizza, the ninth film from writer-director Anderson, follows the same strategy with more subtle results.

With its setting in 19700s southern California, Licorice Pizza begins as a coming-of-age summer romance but becomes much more. The film focuses on the intertwined lives of Gary Valentine, played full of boyish charm by Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Alana Kane, captivatingly played by Alana Haim of the indie rock band of sisters, Haim. Based partly on his own childhood as a precocious entertainment-industry kid and the larger-than-life story of producer Gary Goetzman (The Silence of the Lambs), Licorice Pizza follows the various business endeavors of child-actor-turned-businessman Gary and ex-school photographer’s assistant Alana.

The film takes us through the creation and execution of two of their businesses—a waterbed company and a pinball arcade—each affected not only by the characters themselves, but in the larger setting of the 1970s. First comes “Fat Bernie’s Waterbeds,” a relatively successful endeavor until a gas shortage related to the Yom Kippur War puts them out of business. Next comes “Fat Bernie’s Pinball Arcade,” an all-ages pinball joint that Gary opened after the Supreme Court ruled that pinball machines weren’t gambling devices in 1974. Alana also begins working for Councilman Joe Wachs, named after and based on the real-life politician, who ends up using Alana as a coverup for his boyfriend at the time, which he never went public with until the late ‘90s.

Weaving personal adventures with realistic consequences of the time, Anderson forms a story of what it was like growing up in L.A. in the ‘70s, whether or not those watching it had ever been there or were even alive at the time. It’s dreamy and nostalgic, but it also feels true; the story is glamorized but the events and their context aren’t. This is in part because the film takes place a little over 10 years before Anderson would’ve been the same age as Gary and his friends.

The film seems to be the most personal of Anderson’s so far; its stories revolve around his and his friends’ experiences growing up in the San Fernando Valley, and stars his wife, Maya Rudolph of SNL, his own children, and longtime family friends, the entire Haim family. Even Hoffman grew up on the sets of Anderson’s other films as Philip Seymour Hoffman starred in five of Anderson’s seven films before his death, making it a fitting choice for his acting debut to be in an Anderson film. This closeness of the story to Anderson’s own childhood and his relationships with the cast is palpable throughout Licorice Pizza.

This intimacy is what makes the third aspect of the movie, the story of a budding romance, feel more genuine and representative of the early stages of what a crush feels like. One of the best of these scenes is one of the most simple. While sitting next to each other at a kitchen table planning their next business venture, Gary and Alana both turn their knees inward, just barely touching. Anderson again proves that his strengths are in the subtleties. What originally began as a story of teenage shenanigans ends up becoming a commentary on the ways in which major historical and political events shape growing up and falling in love. (

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10


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