Licorice Pizza (2021) Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
The prodigious and celebrated filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson enters nostalgic and reminiscent territory by exploring the unbridled whimsicality of the iconic 1970’s from the perspective of two vibrant and intoxicating young people flirting and falling in love in the most libertine era of contemporary history.
Licorice Pizza is absurdly brilliant, there is no doubt that its epigrammatic writing that unfolds with lusty comedy and boundless youthful merriment is at its peak of perfection, however the indulgent development and persuasive superficiality never quite reaches the same levels of the joyous and bombastic spirit of the acting essence contained in this film.
Naturally, this production remains in the beauty of its form, of its stimulating softness and depends on a mobility based on positive vibes and paradigmatic sensations of coming-of-age cinema. Consequently, it is a film that remains minuscule for its ambitions of wanting to be yet another film in that modern category of cinema that pretends to look to the past with graceful breeziness, notwithstanding here it fails terribly, and gravitates to the obvious.
In the 70’s, San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles. Gary is a 15-year-old high school student in the city, where he meets Alana, a 25-year-old Jewish girl who works in a photo studio that takes pictures of the school’s students every year. When Gary and Alana meet for the first time, a connection quickly develops between them that will be very difficult to break. As they try to figure out where this new friendship is leading them, Gary gradually falls more and more in love with her, but the age difference will be a barrier that Alana will not put aside. As time goes by, Gary and Alana will become part of each other’s lives in some way, from being partners in a waterbed business to accomplices in vandalism.
Licorice Pizza surprises with its admirable young talent, especially with newcomers Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman as the two energetic and addictively affable lead characters in this narrative that yearns for the past. Director Paul Thomas Anderson seems to have reached a somewhat relaxed and sluggish horizon in his career, after his transcendent and evocative films of the 1990’s and 2000’s, this new production falls short of the standards he has set for himself throughout his career.
Anderson materializes the 70’s with solid enthusiasm and immersive happiness, a tonic of everlasting young love, as well as a vacuous look at sociocultural elements of the era; which evidently never are taken seriously nor do they evolve the plot with significant impact. This can be seen in the spontaneous appearances of characters that personify the social and political ethos of the 70’s, ephemeral moments where actors like Bradley Cooper and Benny Safdie, playing allusive and multilayered characters, can tell us a lot about the complexities of the 70’s system, a whole cultural spectrum that unfortunately the film but especially the drama wastes to continue its itinerant exercise in romantic comedy. Which is contagious and laugh-out-loud funny, but inconsequential and vaporous. Licorice Pizza has no narrative specificity, just a peripatetic, light and bouncy sense of romantic cinema with poetic tones of comedy.