Photo from The New Yorker

Licorice Pizza follows Alana (Alana Haim) and Gary (Cooper Hoffman) as they navigate their burgeoning relationship in the San Fernando Valley during the 1970s. Gary is immediately enamored with Alana, while she flounders with returning Gary’s affections and being mad at him.

Licorice Pizza may be the most endearing film made by Paul Thomas Anderson yet. For first-time actors, Haim and Hoffman sure do impress. Their chemistry is off-the-charts and they really are the heart of this film. I will say though that I think Alana gets more of a chance to shine as the film centers on her more.

I would describe this as a slice-of-life movie. Some scenes meander and feel random, especially those that feature stars like Bradley Cooper and Sean Penn, but they do add to the feel of the movie. Cooper gives a hilarious and memorable performance in his small amount of screen time.

There is a bit of controversy regarding this film, namely the age gap between Alana and Gary. I do find it weird that a 25-year-old is in fact hanging out with a 15-year-old. But Alana and Gary have a lot of chemistry together and it is easy to buy into their relationship. While I would describe them as more than friends, their relationship was not sexual or predatory. You can tell they had a real love for each other, even when they got on each other’s nerves.

One nitpick I did have about the film is that Gary is a successful businessman. Sure, the two businesses he runs in the film are small, but even though it is the 70s, I do not really think a 15-year-old can succeed in doing that like he seems to. It isn’t much of a detractor, however, and I think it actually adds to Gary’s charm. I just had a bit of a hard time suspending my disbelief.

One thing that cannot be disputed though is that Paul Thomas Anderson is a masterful director. As a fan of his, I find that he always manages to suck you into his films even with confusing narratives like The Master or Magnolia. He manages to recreate 1970s San Fernando perfectly, even though I was neither alive during that time nor have been to the area.

Overall, Licorice Pizza is an endearing, slice-of-life, and nostalgic film centering on two people that both complement and aggravate the other. It’s is full of good performances, but its meandering plot might turn off some.

I give Licorice Pizza a B.

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