Licorice Pizza (CREDIT: Paul Thomas Anderson/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Starring: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, John Michael Higgins, Skyler Gisondo, Este Haim, Danielle Haim, Moti Haim, Donna Haim, Christine Ebersole, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, Joseph Cross, Maya Rudolph

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Indelicate Language

Release Date: November 26, 2021 (Theaters)/Expands December 25, 2021

When I hear the title “Licorice Pizza,” it makes me think of that classic Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen song about putting every conceivable topping you can think of on the top of the crust. I can’t help but shout, “Licorice? Put it on the pizza!” But as it turns out, the directorial approach of Paul Thomas Anderson vis-a-vis Licorice Pizza has basically nothing in common with the Olsen twins. That’s okay, though!

Instead, this movie has me feeling like Linda Richman, which is to say, “Licorice Pizza is neither licorice, nor pizza: discuss.” So discuss I will! A couple of kiddos named Alana (Alana Haim) and Gary (Cooper Hoffman) cross paths in 1973 in the San Fernando Valley and then strike up a sorta-friendship, maybe-romance, partnership-in-hustling. Gary’s an accomplished child actor, but when he meets up with Alana, they switch their focus to selling waterbeds. They eventually splinter off into their own interests, as they get involved with the likes of politics and pinball legalization, contend with a gas crisis, and meet a bunch of memorable characters along the way. It feels like Anderson wanted to make a movie about some of the touchstone moments of his youth (or toddlerhood – he was born in 1970) and created a couple of central characters who could Forrest Gump their way through it all. Not a bad idea if you have a knack for populating an ensemble cast full of an endless stream of oddballs and eccentrics.

One question I had throughout watching Licorice Pizza was:just how old are Alana and Gary really? She says she’s 25, and he says he’s 15, which sounds perfectly plausible at first. But it’s of course more than a little concerning that a twentysomething would be hanging out so much with a teenager. Although it doesn’t come across as creepy as it could, mostly because Gary feels a lot older than he ostensibly is. I suppose that’s the lot of the child actor, to mature faster than everyone else (in some ways). Furthermore, when you consider all the various business ventures that are launched and folded over the course of the runtime, it feels like multiple years must be passing. So I started to surmise that maybe Gary was a little older by the end of it all anyway. But actually, I’m pretty sure all this action somehow takes place within one year (or less!). Latchkey kids apparently could get away with a lot way back when. Or in Gary’s case, teenage adults could do pretty much whatever they wanted in the 70s. These are the discombobulating thoughts I had while watching this movie!

In conclusion, Licorice Pizza is more or less a series of chuckle-inducing zesty vignettes with a bent-but-bighearted emotional throughline. Worth checking out!

Licorice Pizza is Recommended If You Like: Old sitcom bits and other pop culture ephemera, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Sisters yelling at each other

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Waterbeds