Licorice Pizza (2021)

The trailer looked so clever and hip. The actual film – not so much. The trailer may have literally consisted of the best bits. Critics loved it (93% Rotten Tomatoes), audiences less so (63%), but still a lot of positive reaction.

The film is chocked full of cameos and inside Hollywood jokes. The Jon Peters scenes are a scream.

I would imagine my reaction is the same as someone watching Seinfeld or Monty Python who didn’t get most of the humor or context. Licorice Pizza is not a bad film, competently made and faithful to the early 1970s period when it takes place. To say the film meanders is like saying Donald Trump never lies. The film’s structure is all over the place. Is the plot about nothing? Things happen in the film that are never explained, which happens in life too, but is confusing in a film. Life can have a randomness where people come and go, and challenges also look like unannounced opportunities. Go figure.

Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman

A teenager (Gary Valentine) and a twenty-something (Alana Kane) make an odd couple. They go through a lot of experiences as their friendship grows. They go into business together selling waterbeds and that brings them to Jon Peters, boyfriend of Barbra Streisand, and future film mogul. Again, whenever Peters randomly pops up, the film shifts into a higher gear.

Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper, sober and on good behavior.

Two supporting roles are the most interesting. Bradley Cooper is remarkable as the smarmy, egocentric Peters. Sean Penn plays leading man Jack Holden, who is apparently a version of the late William Holden. Penn’s character is smarmy is a different way, although both the Peters and Holden’s character want to have sex with the twenty-something woman, Alana. Two other supporting characters also score on the weirdometer. Christine Ebersole plays a bipolar version of Lucille Ball and musician Tom Waits as loud, obnoxious film director Rex Blau, who is working on the Jack Holden film.

Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love) wrote and directed the film, and this feels like his version of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but not nearly as good. To give Anderson credit, Licorice Pizza was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Direction. It was nominated and won a variety of other awards and appeared on many best picture of the year lists. I’m not a fan of Anderson’s work, although I respect his films, but they are too obtuse even for me.

So do the two main characters ever get together? Alana, the twenty-something, and Gary, the fifteen year old do have a connection, but the 10 year age difference is a bit weird. There are sexual sparks, but also a deep sense of friendship between two people who totally get each other in a world that often does not. I won’t spoil the ending by commenting on it.

For a film to lack a compelling plot is hardly unusual. The plot is a spine to hang many relationship vignettes, each building on the previous one. Anderson writes chaos, where clarity is hopefully clear at the end. His films are certainly about odd people making the best of their bizarre life situation. The lives of his characters can move in any direction, run parallel, cross or serve to show contrast as they speed out of site as the credits roll.

Anderson’s films are not big box office, yet they are up for the most notable awards and live forever in digital formats. Actors want to work with him, indulging the itch to play crazy characters in an actor’s sandbox.

You might need to see it more than once to absorb and make sense of what appears to be a mess.

One thought on “Licorice Pizza (2021)

  1. The film title and the accompanying movie poster gave me an oily feeling. The 70s weren’t great years for movies, with the exception of a handful like the Godfather trilogy, The Sting, and a few others. I watched about half the movie and gave up, it wasn’t American Graffiti or Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, but more like The Kentucky Fried Movie with the cast of The Gong Show. Cooper should be more selective with his roles or he’ll wind up in a Jennifer Lawrence hell.

    Liked by 1 person

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