Licorice Pizza (2021) movie review
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza is a comedy following Alana, a young adult, and Gary, a high schooler, who fall in love while navigating their own lives in the early 1970s. Critics love the film, with many calling is the best film of 2021. It is also arguably the leading contender for the Academy Award for Original Screenplay.
Paul Thomas Anderson is a coin-toss for me. I love Punch-Drunk Love (2002), and I hate Inherent Vice (2014). Phantom Thread (2017) and There Will Be Blood (2007) are both fantastic, but I never cared to watch Magnolia (1999) or The Master (2012). And sure Boogie Nights (1997) is great, but not one I’d ever watch again. And I didn’t really care for Licorice Pizza either. If you are the type to be swayed by 1970s production design, scene-stealing supporting characters, and a potent but aimless story, this will be right up your alley! I simply wanted more from the film than over two hours of what felt like the same point being made over and over again…
Now to be fair, Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman make this film work. These two manage to take their aptly written characters and truly run with them, really carry the themes of the film through their performances and ability to really capture those themes as Alana and Gary do. The supporting cast of course delivers strong performances. I mean you’ve probably heard at least a few times how great Bradley Cooper is in this film. But I find the supporting cast often distracting when these two almost entirely unknown actors (especially Hoffman) can pull the heavy lifting in this film.
And yeah the 70s production design, music, editing, and always sharp cinematography do work to win me over more times than I would like to admit in this movie. But as much as I wanted to enjoy these elements, the story kept pulling me away from the stronger elements of the film. And yes I know I’m about to nitpick the thing that most people say this film does best… (Also I am about to talk about the point of the movie. It’s not really a spoiler. There aren’t really spoilers… But if you want to know nothing, stop now.)
So the idea behind the film is the contrast between these two characters and how they see the world around them. Alana is in love with Gary but can’t seem to get over her dislike of how young he is at times. Gary meanwhile carries himself like an adult, but for mostly childish gains. His goals carry a short lifespan, but he is always ready for more ideas that he can pursue. So the will-they-won’t-they is broken up by Alana chasing the dream of adulthood, only for that to be shattered by the realization that adults are idiots. Not bad really! That could make for a very interesting film. Except, I don’t think it works here…
The story structure is simply too repetitive. Alana and Gary work together one on of his ideas until Gary does something childish without thinking of Alana’s feelings, so she takes off and teams up with some crazy adult who she thinks might help her not only start her life, but make her feel like an adult. And the adult is just as childish as Gary, so she goes back to Gary and leaves the scene-stealing adult that honestly feels like more of a distraction than anything else. Over and over and over again until the movie ends. At first it was quote enjoyable, but once the point was made, my interest in the film waned for the second half of the film.
So I didn’t hate it, but I felt like it needed more to actually happen. The strong performances and overall quality of filmmaking might be enough to sway you into watching the film, and it would not be time wasted. I simply wish the story were more interesting. I went into the film thinking about where it would go on my best of the year list, and walked out of the theater thinking about what else I had to do that day. Here I am almost two weeks later finally writing a review. It never really stuck with me, and unless you are all about vague story direction, I’m not sure it will really stick with anyone who isn’t exclusively an arthouse critic. 6/10.
So Licorice Pizza? Did you see it? What did you think? And what is your favorite PTA film and why? Be sure to leave a like or a comment (or both) below and let us know! Thanks for reading!
-review by Ryan Prince