‘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

Movie Review: Nerds Realize That Good Grades and Partying Aren’t Mutually Exclusive in the Goofy and Sweet ‘Booksmart’

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CREDIT: Francois Duhamel/Annapurna Pictures

Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Noah Galvin, Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Mike O’Brien, Diana Silvers, Molly Gordon, Mason Gooding, Victoria Ruesga, Austin Crute, Eduardo Franco, Nico Haraga, Stephanie Styles

Director: Olivia Wilde

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for Halting and Manic Attempts at Sex and Drug Use

Release Date: May 24, 2019

Here’s what I’ve learned from Booksmart and other recent high school-set movies and TV shows: all teenagers are smart these days. Maybe there are still some lazy slackers out there, but the conventional wisdom is that they’re the exceptions, and the new normal is that it’s cool to be a good student. This comes as a bit of a shock to Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) on the eve of their graduation, who have spent four years buckling down, nose to textbook, only to look up and discover that their partying classmates also have decent enough transcripts to get into prestigious schools, including one who will be attending Yale alongside Molly. Now, I can buy that partying kids are smart, but two kids from the same high school both going to the same Ivy League institution? That might be a bridge too far. Although, the elite college admissions process can feel so random that just saying “[insert Ivy League school here]” works as shorthand to get the point across for Molly’s worldview to suddenly come tumbling down.

So with that setup, Molly and Amy decide that they’ve got to make up for all the fun they’ve unnecessarily been missing out the past four years by fitting in as much partying as possible the night before their graduation ceremony. It’s a somewhat novel setup for a fairly typical plot, as much of the night is spent getting to the party instead of actually being at the party (Molly and Amy, naturally enough, don’t know their classmate’s address). As is usually the case, the plot shenanigans are quite shaggy, which is sometimes amusing and sometimes a little too random (one drug-fueled animated sequence really comes out of nowhere). The differences come in the perspectives, with a decidedly female (and nerdy) perspective in front of and behind the camera (it’s Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut). But the typical emotional climax is still what you would expect (and be satisfied by). These movies so often steadily build to codependent friends screaming at each other, and we’ve got a doozy of a blowout here. It’s effective, but it also makes me want to see that rare high school party movie about teenage friends with a perfectly healthy relationship.

Booksmart is Recommended If You Like: Superbad, Blockers, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 2000s SNL alumni

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Caps and Gowns