Licorice Pizza

By Joanna Langfield

Paul Thomas Anderson’s romantic comedy glows. And, after seeing it, so did I.

Set in the Los Angeles of the early 1970’s, this is a story as much of its time as it is a tale of a first, complicated, love. Gary Valentine knows Alana Kane is for him the minute he sees her. She knows he’s cute, but he’s too young. 15. And she’s 25. But, Alana shows up for the dinner he proposed. As just friends. And she intends to keep it that way. And she still keeps showing up.

While the arc of Gary and Alana’s story is a familiar one, the telling of it is something else, especially from Anderson, whose earlier work has been far more gritty. There’s an interesting comparison to be made between this and the great Boogie Nights and Magnolia. But Pizza is far softer and kinder, maybe just thanks to the story or maybe the sign of a filmmaker, looking back on a time with an affectionate grace. There’s a lot of love here, from the plot to the notable Hollywood places, characters, events and even the casting.

A wonderful Cooper Hoffman brings his own charm and great timing to Gary, still evoking memories of his late, great father, who, of course, worked with Anderson. But it’s Alana Haim who takes the screen like a force of nature, whipping the fury, confusion and understanding of young adulthood vividly onto the screen. And yes, how sweet it is to know the actual Haim family (the real life singing sisters and their father and mother, Anderson’s high school art teacher) plays an integral part here, a middle class Jewish family that doesn’t always understand what’s going on. But sometimes, they sure do.

Enhanced by great lighting and some key cameos (Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters is fantastic), the soundtrack is even better. In a season of too-long releases, this is the one movie I didn’t want to end. It is delicious.