Licorice Pizza (2021) should have a much wider release than it currently has. There is so much excellence on display in this film from the writing, the acting, and the directing that movie lovers will surely enjoy the experience. Paul Thomas Anderson continues to demonstrate his mastery of character-driven storytelling with this exceptional entry.
Alana (Alana Haim) is working for a yearbook photography company when she meets 15-year-old Gary (Cooper Hoffman), who instantly starts trying to charm the 25-year-old girl struggling to find direction. She denies every advance he makes, but yet she stays with him throughout the opening scene allowing him to continue trying. She concedes to possibly meeting him that night and their awkward second meeting sets the stage for a friendship of epic proportions that the film will explore.
Haim is simply magnificent on screen. Her naturalistic performance encapsulates everything the film is bringing to the table. The movie mostly rests on her, and she is extremely up to the task. That’s not to discredit Hoffman in any way; being the son of Phillip Seymore Hoffman certainly means he has some rather large acting shoes to fill – and while he has some time to grow into them, this is a great first step. Hoffman is so charming and vulnerable at the same time in his role as Gary. Couple that with some incredible chemistry with Alana, and you have one of the most complex on-screen relationships to navigate. Are they romantically involved? If so, are you okay with that? Regardless of the questions, you’ll ask yourself Anderson makes this work.
There are some other crazy performances in this film, but Bradley Cooper really owns his scenes. He is manic in the best ways and adds a layer of tension that is undeniable. He is also clearly having fun getting to flex his comedic chops again.
There is a magic to Anderson’s filmmaking that often brings so much tension. In movies like Punch Drunk Love, the film lives and dies on the tension created by Adam Sandler’s character’s anxiety. There are several scenes in this film where the tension builds, and Anderson’s choices of how that tension resolves is intriguing and unique. You may think you know, but I found the outcomes to be surprising time and time again. It made for a brilliant experience watching this movie.
Licorice Pizza is one of my favorite films from 2021. The performances, the characters, and the story as a whole just worked for me in ways that I hadn’t expected. I’ve been a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson, but this one shoots up to the top of the list. Licorice Pizza is a Must See movie.