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  • Adam Carr

Licorice Pizza (Review)

You know you're in for an experience within five minutes of watching Paul Thomas Anderson's "Licorice Pizza" when a high school student, Gary (Cooper Hoffman), attempts to secure a date with a photographer's assistant, Alana (Alana Haim), during picture day. The pickup is shot in one long take which signals a filmmaker comfortable working in his craft (usurpingly) and two characters who will, over the course of two hours, grow fond of each other while extracting every emotion off the emotional scale from the viewer. The "pickup" is poetic, the jousting is humorous and the connection is electrifying.


Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim in Licorice Pizza
Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim in Licorice Pizza


Gary's lack of self-consciousness works in his favor when meeting girls and bouncing from one entrepreneurial project to the next. Watching as he learns how to handle and grow in a relationship with Alana is the heartbeat of the movie. His confidence matches only his inexperience which makes him an endearing character that we're interested in and cares what happens to him. His desire seems beyond his reach but perhaps his audacity is attractive enough since Alana does show up for their rendezvous. She is her own spirit who is way above Gary's maturity level but his adventurous spirit, especially for one as young as he, pulls her out of the photography job and lands her on her own path of discovery. The beauty of observing this romance blossom is watching these two actors' work. Mr. Hoffman and Ms. Haim are natural talents. They make us forget we're watching a film. Mr. Anderson drops us in the middle of each exploit causing squirming and/or ecstasy depending on the raw encounter. The squirming is part of the fun.


Mr. Anderson not only has Mr. Hoffman and Ms. Haim but he has acting jewels scattered about. It seems every character our leads run into are so idiosyncratic and played so deliciously by each of Mr. Anderson's casting choices that every scene throughout the film is a film itself. The highlights are Harriet Sansom Harris, who plays a casting director, Sean Penn, who plays an aging movie star, Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters and Benny Safdie playing a mayoral candidate. This is a multi-watchable film not only for the layers of emotion but to witness the master work in cinematic acting, something we wished we could have for Brando on stage in "Streetcar" or Olivier in "Hamlet."


Harriet Sansom Harris in Licorice Pizza
Harriet Sansom Harris in Licorice Pizza


"Licorice Pizza" is pure cinema. Each scene creates an emotional foundation and a major part of that comes with the cinematography that is credited to both Mr. Anderson and Michael Bauman. The film takes pace in the early seventies which is presented through the art direction and costumes but the lighting gives it the texture of a time long past. It is a beautifully shot film and adds to its perfection.


This is a wonderful cinematic achievement of which every corner of it is done perfectly. Mr. Anderson is an artist and he proves it once again with "Licorice Pizza."

Paul Thomas Anderson directing Licorice Pizza
Paul Thomas Anderson directing Licorice Pizza

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