“I won’t forget you like you won’t forget me.”
Introducing Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and his entrepreneurial spirit. Even though he’s only in high school, Gary is way beyond his years of experience and enthusiasm. Simply “to be a child” and “go to school” don’t satisfy him – he wants more! From acting and publicity work to sales and business ownership, Gary is insatiable in his quest for bigger and better.
Introducing Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and her submissive spirit. Although 25 years old, Alana is struggling to see her life moving forward. Years pass but nothing changes. Her job is a dead end, her family’s disappointment festers, but Alana wakes up every day with the same thing: wasted potential. How can you break a seemingly endless cycle?
Enter photo day at school, photo assistant Alana and Gary, who has yet to be photographed. Within seconds, Gary’s forward confidence meets Alana’s passive insecurity. Alana could really use a friend, age gap aside, so a relationship begins. Tentatively at first, Gary’s maturity and Alana’s self-doubt quickly lead them to a meaningful connection. It’s carefree; it’s organic; it’s outside of awkward romance and silly expectations. They are purely and honestly friends.
Gary encourages and reinforces Alana in a genuine and deserved self-esteem. Alana offers and guides Gary in self-esteem outside of success and stature. They are each other’s inspiration, but aren’t people meant to grow? To evolve?
Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s melancholy vision of the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s produces many powerful glimpses of youth. His choices are downright metaphorical.
Child’s play: the omnipresent desire to exceed your rhythm and your position in life. Wishing the present state for the next. Gary’s love of acting is just that: Gary wishing to leave his teenage years behind for the promised prosperity of adulthood. STAY YOUNG GARY!
School photo: Alana, instead of progressing, literally chooses to freeze time. She tries to seize a moment and never let go. No one asks for a photo to grow up, move, get married, start a family. A photo remains what it has always been.
Waterbeds: Gary is passionate about waterbeds. Why? Psh, who knows. They’re new, they’re fancy, they’re NOT in his house, which means they’re exciting. The metal and padding are safe and tired, but the water is exotic and exhilarating. Like many young people, it is the unknown that is attractive. Spoiler alert, Gary. The incessant movement is infuriating, the unpredictability is sickening. Just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s necessary.
An actor’s audition: being young means auditioning every day, all day, in front of everyone. You are convinced that the one in front of you is trying to get you to play a part in his story. You feel the need to dress for the role you want, to lie about yourself (“Oh, do you speak Portuguese too?”), and craft a personality that will appeal to this new customer. Turns out, more often than not, you don’t want to be in that person’s crummy movie anyway. Choose your roles more carefully!
Dating Barbara Streisand: Sounds Good, Right? Who wouldn’t want to date a famous superstar? In reality, it’s not worth it. It’s exhausting, it’s empty and it’s erratic. It’s not easy to cuddle up to a trophy.
Jumping a Motorcycle Over a Sand Trap on a Golf Course Full of Burning Restaurant Chairs: Does This One Really Need to be Explained? That’s exactly how you feel when you’re young.
A nationwide gas shortage: when everything you want to do is taken away from you. When life is out of your reach because someone else said so. Restrictions are prisons for a young person, they suffocate. Although the explanation involves world politics, national resources and local logistics. All a young person can hear is “you can not.” It’s not a youth deficit; it is only a reality.
Driving a moving truck, empty of fuel, on dangerous and hilly roads, backwards: again, do I really need to explain the metaphor? Being young is hard, never seeing clearly what’s coming your way.
Pinball vs. Politics: As a youngster, pinball seems so different from politics, yet they are the same. In pinball, the relentless force of gravity will ensure that all participants find their way to the bottom. It’s just a matter of time. In politics, yes, the same.
Running: When you’re young, there are few things as liberating as running. I’m also not talking about moseying or lollygagging. Sprinting creates a feeling of weightlessness, of power beyond the law. Halfway, you are no longer confined to this murky land. You are free! Why approach the one you love by anything other than running?
PTA is a cinematic master without parallel. He has grand vision, endless depth and flawless execution. Like his previous films, Licorice Pizza invites the viewer into an unusual and sometimes uncomfortable place: a real vulnerability. It hurts as well as rides! PTA shows us a relationship, hard to describe but impossible to deny, that feels so real it hurts. The film is touching and raw but also hilarious and spontaneous.
Instead of a classic three-act structure, PTA unfolds a story in loose episodes, it develops characters instead of a plot. There are a few times I wish I had more connection…but the impact is undeniable. Aside from the last 20 seconds, Licorice Pizza is a perfect example of tension. It relies on electricity in the space between these two objects.
The film features two newcomers, Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, and both do a superb job! I’ve been a fan of Alana Haim’s music for years now (along with her sister band “Haim”), so it was a treat. She transitions to the big screen with ease, bringing angst and energy. Cooper Hoffman, son of Hollywood legend Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a wonderful opposite for Haim – his calm but chaotic spirit is magnetic!
Harriet Sansom Harris is another acting star. In a single scene as talent agent Mary Grady, she commands and elicits huge laughs. Plus, Bradley Cooper is unforgettable as Jon Peters; he is a force of worry and hilarity. He made me roll!
Licorice Pizza is an ode to youth, its ups and downs, its warts and its wonders.
REPORT CARD: “Licorice pizza.”
Commentary: Painfully intimate and ultimately redemptive