I Ordered the Pepperoni Not the Licorice Pizza

The Stream: Lack of plot makes it feel aimless and longer than it is.

The Big Screen: Great debut performances from Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman

The Final Bill: A charming coming-of-age film from Paul Thomas Anderson, but not one of his best.

– Trip Fontaine
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writers: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rating: R for language, sexual material and some drug use.
Runtime: 2 hours 8 minutes
Production Companies: BRON Studios, Focus Features, Ghoulardi Film Company
Platform: Only in theaters
Trailers: The Northman, Scream, Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre, The Batman, Uncharted, Death on the Nile, Marry Me, Dog, Cyrano

Are you in your post-Christmas haze? I am, but since I was finished playing with all of my new toys, I decided to venture out to the theater to see Licorice Pizza. It has been four years since Paul Thomas Anderson’s last film, Phantom Thread, was released; and he always comes up with something complex and compelling. I have been anticipating Licorice Pizza without knowing any details based purely on Anderson’s filmography. Here’s how it lives up.

Licorice Pizza doesn’t really have a plot. It’s the 1970’s in the San Fernando Valley. Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is a cocky, 15-year-old guy, who is rapidly aging out of being a precocious child actor. At the beginning of the movie, Valentine’s claim to fame is starring as one of 18 child actors in “Under One Roof.” He meets Alana Kane (Alana Haim) a seemingly self-possessed, 25-year-old woman, who otherwise is struggling to find direction in her own life. Gary and Alana strike up a friendship and go on misadventures that show how their relationship develops.

Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed one of the best films since 2000 in There Will Be Blood (2007). Thus, Licorice Pizza has a lot to live up to. It has a lot of charm and some emotional resonance in this coming-of-age tale; but, it’s kind of just fine. The lack of plot makes the film feel aimless and longer than it actually is. There are some fun vignettes that occur throughout especially as Gary becomes an opportunistic entrepreneur. (He is a very resourceful kid.) As the film meanders through the story of Alana and Gary, you have to latch on to the characters to get swept away and enjoy the movie – otherwise it will lose you. [Spoiler Alert: what you see of Bradley Cooper in the trailer is all there is in the movie. Sorry.]

Speaking of Alana and Gary, the leads of this movie are both first time actors. Alana Haim is a member of the pop group, Haim, so she’s been in front of the camera before. She has charisma. Alana is a charming character. She’s messy and makes mistakes, but she seems to be self-aware. Alana Haim does a great job of portraying the ups and downs in Alana’s journey. Cooper Hoffman is the son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Cooper gets Gary’s cockiness and immaturity exactly right – he’s like Zack Morris in the 1970’s. Cooper has to be interesting enough that a 25-year-old woman would be intrigued by the 15-year-old child actor despite his overwhelming arrogance. He’s a teenager desperately trying to be beyond his years with limited success. Licorice Pizza hinges on these two performances and they do pretty well.

S2S: Official Rating Scale

Ultimately, Licorice Pizza is a good movie, but it is not one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s best. The film suffers from the lack of plot and feels aimless and meandering for much of its runtime. The two leads are charming together and are able to depict the conflict between innocence and maturity. These coming-of-age stories can be derivative, but there are some interesting enough diversions here. I’d say Licorice Pizza is matinee worthy.