Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 14 minutes, Director – Paul Thomas Anderson
25 year old Alana (Alana Haim) and 15 year old Gary (Cooper Hoffman) spark a budding friendship through various business ventures together after the latter asks the former out on a date.
There’s something about a group of teenagers casually sitting, listening to Chuck Berry’s My Ding-A-Ling that almost firmly puts you in the 1973 spirit that Paul Thomas Anderson attempts to conjure up, or perhaps recapture, in his latest feature, Licorice Pizza. The writer-director manages to avoid an overall personally nostalgic feel to his throwback film, although elements certainly slip through in a number of scenes, as the cameras capture the somewhat hazy friendship, and business partnership, of 25 year old Alana (Alana Haim) and 15 year old Gary (Cooper Hoffman).
A romantic relationship is strictly off the cards, despite Gary’s initial (and likely continuing) hopes. On their first meeting he almost abruptly asks her out while in the queue to get his picture taken at high school. Nonetheless Alana finds herself turning up to the restaurant and from there a friendship, although one that certainly occasionally pushes lines, blossoms between the seemingly loaded child actor and the young woman still working out what she wants to do in the world. There’s a loose plot as we track their relationship through its various ups and downs. We see them enter the waterbed business, with some chaotic outcomes; including an up-close interaction with Bradley Cooper as producer Jon Peters (Cooper effectively using every frame of his short time on screen with a wonderful performance that he’s clearly enjoying), and even Alana also trying her hand at acting (this marking the feature debut of the musician who gives a fine performance).
In many ways the film appears to made up slightly of various vignettes and moments tied together through the central friendship. The cinematography and general visual style helps to bring you in and engage with the piece, helped by the fact that Anderson’s direction is truly wonderful and helps bring the film further to life. Yet, the lack of story is both a push and hinderance to the film. There a moments where it feels as if it’s starting to go in circles with the fluctuations between the main two characters – particularly as it shifts from focusing on Cooper to Alana and back again (and vice versa). And while there’s still enjoyment to be found within the film – particularly when it comes to some of the ‘continuing sagas’ and sequences that it holds within its run-time, there are still one or two arc-based elements that slightly hold it back, and perhaps your level of enjoyment too.
However, what has been created is still a personal throwback that doesn’t exclude the viewer. One not completely drenched in nostalgia to be alienating. While the 70s acts as the authentic backdrop the characters and there friendship are just as upfront as the decade – or rather the single year. Their relationship feels caught in the heat of a summer, although far from a doomed romance, after all this is strictly just a friendship with nothing bubbling underneath – at least for one of them, for a fair deal of the run-time. It’s entertaining and amusing to see how things pan out, even if they do begin to border on repetition and much of it is helped by the general style, feel and, most of all, look of the time in which the handful of events and moments pan out.
While some character arcs begin to slightly border on repetition there’s enough in the detail and look of Licorice Pizza to keep you engaged and involved in the film. Helped by great performances and direction, it’s easy to get caught up in the spirit of many of the sequences and moments that run throughout it.