‘Licorice Pizza’ Invites Us to Come of Age, P.T. Anderson-Style

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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

This Is a Movie Review: In ‘Phantom Thread,’ Daniel Day-Lewis is a Master Dressmaker in Love with Routine

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CREDIT: Laurie Sparham/Focus Features

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rating: R for More F Bombs Than Expected

Release Date: December 25, 2017 (Limited)

In the beginning of Phantom Thread, Reynolds Woodcock’s muse and lover Alma (Vicky Krieps) describes him as “the most difficult man.” Such a definitive claim could potentially set us up for disappointment, but if anything, it turns out to be a bit of an understatement. So then the issue could bethat the dialogue is too on-the-nose, but that is not a problem with a lead actor and a director as precise as Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson are. And that precision is really what this film is about. The story of a dressmaker, no matter how legendary, strikes me as a rather niche attraction, but it should be known that Phantom Thread is primarily the (love?) story of two stubborn people butting up against each other.

If you are a fan of P.T. Anderson, or cinema in general, but do not have strong feelings towards fashion, you might be comforted to know that the focus is on the relationships. But you may soon find yourself discomforted by how discordant those relationships are. Or you might find all that hilarious. This is definitely an example of the rarely seen prestige cringe comedy, and I cringed more than I guffawed, though I appreciated the craft and the crack comic timing.

The setting is 1950s London, but due to the lack of electric devices in Reynolds Woodcock’s house, it feels like it could be decades earlier. Reynolds and the waitress Alma are quite smitten with each other, so he takes her into his home as his muse, in-house model, and soon enough, lover. Cyril (Lesley Manville), his sister and assistant, is on hand to make sure everything remains in tip-top shape in the wake of this new arrival. While at first there appears to be a genuine spark between Reynolds and Alma, it does not take long for there to be troubling signs. He casually drops some remarks about her imperfections, while she surprisingly enough has the gumption to give as good as she gets. But instead of maintaining her dignity, this results in the two of them butting up against each other with their shared obstinacy. Yet she manipulates him towards marriage, while I quietly scream that they need to cut their losses and run away from each other.

This definitely falls into the category of films I admire but do not particularly enjoy. The characters are marvelously realized, but too bullheaded to be pleasant for any extended period. I think that intimate exposure of imperfections is the point, and there is certainly a lot of room to appreciate that, but preferably from a safe distance.

Phantom Thread is Recommended If You Like: The Devil Wears Prada, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Witnessing the painstaking creative process

Grade: 3.75 out of 5 Measurements