In Review

Film review: Licorice Pizza

Unconventional romcom set in 1970s LA

Licorice Pizza is the “metaphorical shot in the arm we all need right now, to go with the real one”, said Brian Viner in the Daily Mail. Paul Thomas Anderson’s “irresistible” new film brims with “effervescent charm” and “belly laughs”; “I cherished every minute of it.” Set in California in 1973, the film is a “boy-meets-girl-at-high-school” tale, but the twist is that only one of the lovers is at school. That’s 15-year-old Gary (Cooper Hoffman), a child actor who falls for a 25-year-old photographer’s assistant, Alana (Alana Haim) when she visits his school to take the pupils’ pictures. 

Shot on rich and grainy 35mm film, Licorice Pizza “does a superb job” of recreating 1970s Los Angeles, said Geoffrey Macnab in The i Paper. Hoffman has the same “shambling charm and force of personality” as his father, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, while Haim – better known as a musician – brings an ingratiating spikiness to her role as the “(slightly) older woman who can’t quite believe she is falling for a teenager”. The narrative style is “deliberately rambling”, with the story unfolding in loosely joined episodes, but the result is so subversive and funny that you forgive its “shaggy-dog approach to storytelling”. 

I’m afraid I found the episodic structure rather “gruelling”, said Kevin Maher in The Times. Anderson is “far too gifted to make a stinker”, but the film isn’t a patch on his better films, such as There Will Be Blood and The Master. While the love story is meant to be “adorable, cute and cuddly”, to me it seemed contrived. Alana articulates one of the film’s central flaws when she asks her sister: “Is it weird that I hang out with Gary and his 15-year-old friends?” The answer, as the characters are presented here, is: “yes”.

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