“Licorice Pizza” is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread, The Master) and stars Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn (Mystic River, Milk), Tom Waits (The Old Man & the Gun, The Dead Don’t Die), Bradley Cooper (Guardians of the Galaxy, A Star is Born), and Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems, Good Time). This film follows the connection between Alana Kane and Gary Valentine, not to be confused with the guy who plays Danny on “King of Queens,” as they spend time together in the San Fernando Valley in 1973.
Paul Thomas Anderson is a name I have not followed as much as other directors, and it is something I feel guilty of doing in regards to my film watching journey. Not only because he is an acclaimed name, but he also went to Emerson College, which I was probably going to attend had I gotten past the waitlist. So he has a bit of history in Boston, which as someone who lives near the Massachusetts state capital, is something I take a bit too seriously. I’ve seen “The Master” towards the end of the 2010s, but that’s all I have watched from him. I remember it being magnificently shot, but the story is not something that stuck with me to this day. I still need to watch “There Will Be Blood,” I own copies of “Inherent Vice” and “Phantom Thread” and still need to watch those. I still haven’t seen “Boogie Nights!” There are quite a few directors I have gotten around to over the years in terms of catching up on their filmography, but Paul Thomas Anderson fails to make the list.
When I saw the trailer for “Licorice Pizza,” I thought it sort of nailed the nostalgic aspect. The film takes place in the 1970s, and not only does it get a thumbs up for the production design that reminds me of walking into my grandparents’ house, but some of the music is okay as well. I think this film from a presentation point of view, checks a lot of boxes. It looks like it is from its focal decade, the acting, despite the leads having no evidential experience, is top-notch. For all I know, it could be on Anderson’s part. If I have learned anything from James Gunn over the years, he can take an actor with less experience like John Cena and make them pop. The best thing I can say about “Licorice Pizza” is that Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman give good performances regardless of the material that’s given to them.
I’m not using that last sentence lightly, because “Licorice Pizza” is probably the most uncomfortable I have felt watching a movie in some time. Okay, well, maybe not as uncomfortable as “Music,” that s*it was downright personal. I live in the age of social media and in my teens I would talk to people far from my age group and nothing weird happened. Although I believe it is commonly agreed upon that adults should not be dating teens that are ten years apart in age. Gary in this film is 15 years old and Alana is 25.
Do you see the problem?
Now, if Alana was 18, that would be one thing, because that’s also technically an adult, but she is also old enough to still be in high school, just like Gary. TWENTY-FIVE?! The film is kind of a back and forth sort of thing in terms of the romance, where Gary sometimes claims Alana’s his girlfriend, but then the two go back to calling each other “business partners” or something else, but I honestly could not justify myself liking the character of Gary. Because when I think of these sorts of relationships, maybe I’m thinking the adult is in the wrong of dating someone that is significantly younger than them. But with Gary, he’s a literal pervert, and he’s not afraid to hide it. And he’s not a cool pervert like Ron Burgundy who has some personality, granted the movie he’s in respectively has a different vibe, but every time I look at Gary and he says some other line, I want to put some tape over his mouth.
Look, I’m a guy, and it is scientifically evident that guys love anything that has to do with sex. We are revolting creatures. But oh my god. Gary is a downright creep who I occasionally wanted to punch in the face throughout this film’s poorly paced runtime. Seriously, it felt like it was 15 or 30 minutes longer than it actually was. If it’s not about getting to see Alana’s boobs, it’s about making money. Downright power. That’s what we’re dealing with here. Now, I’ve seen “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Jordan Belfort in that film has a semi-similar personality, but he’s also proven that he can be chill, he can be cool. Granted Belfort’s not a teenager, that’s one big difference. Even so, I never got that positive vibe from Gary. I felt like he was trying too hard to be cool when in reality, he felt disgusting.
Now, and I cannot believe I have to say this on a blogging platform that my family reads… I don’t think Paul Thomas Anderson is interested in showing his junk to young girls. I mean, if the genders were reversed, where Alana sees a 25 year old Gary’s junk, who knows? I am comfortable with a storyline about sexual exploration, it’s not something I wouldn’t expect out of some coming of age tales, but this was poorly executed in the worst way possible. I would not want Gary as my friend, and I would want out of any matters involving him if he ever tried to get into Alana’s pants.
One of the most important things about a romance film is that the two leads are likable. I don’t even like their characters by themselves all that much, and even less so together. Because despite what I’ve been saying about Gary coming off as a creep, movies have shown how characters can develop and change. Compared to some other films that I’ve seen, including another recent 1970s nostalgia fest, “The Tender Bar,” I could not really catch onto much character development, especially from Gary. I think Alana’s character has some moments where I could feel her emotion, her stress, the want to escape from reality and other people, but it’s barely enough to make this movie the slightest bit watchable.
If I had any other positives to give “Licorice Pizza,” it is that Bradley Cooper shines as Jon Peters. He honestly came off as a bit of a drugged-up Hugh Hefner type. I think his presence in the film allows the costume design to show its power. Cooper was well directed by Anderson and I would not have minded seeing more of him.
In the end, “Licorice Pizza” is a film that I was looking forward to, but as soon as they stated the age difference, that was an immediate turnoff. This harkens back to the saying that first impressions matter. And if you think this is my only problem with the movie, I’ll mention once again that this movie could have been fifteen to thirty minutes shorter. The movie occasionally dragged, it felt boring. Gary Valentine is by no means a likable character. In fact, he’s probably the character that I hate the most of any project I’ve watched in the past 12 months or so. If you think “West Side Story” was worth skipping because of the Ansel Elgort controversy, I will not stop you from doing that. But based on the fictional elements presented in “Licorice Pizza,” this is a film that part of me wishes I could have skipped. It’s barely any fun, it’s creepy, and I wish the script was good enough to match the amazing talents of some of the actors on screen. I’ll probably go back and watch some of Anderson’s work like “Phantom Thread,” but I hope his next project, whenever that comes out, won’t be as off-putting as this. If you want a 1970s nostalgia fest, just go watch “The Tender Bar.” It’s on Prime Video, and worth your time. I’m going to give “Licorice Pizza” a 4/10.
“Licorice Pizza” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.
Thanks for reading this review! This week I’m going to be watching the all new Japanese animated film, “Belle.” I have heard nothing but good things about this flick, and I am quite curious to see how it is. I will have a review coming soon, and if you want to see more content like this, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Scene Before Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Licorice Pizza?” What did you think about it? Or, what is a film, one specifically that IS NOT in the horror genre, that genuinely makes you uncomfortable? For me, I’d say that would be “Music,” which I literally talked about in my worst of the year list a couple weeks ago! Let me know your pick down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!