In what seems to be an emerging oeuvre of films borne from writer-director nostalgia and set in turn-of-the-Old-Hollywood Los Angeles, Licorice Pizza, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest feature, sits comfortably alongside the likes of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood in both relaxed ambience and charm.
On one level, it tells the story of improbably named teenager and child actor Gary Valentine’s (Cooper Hoffman) even more improbable romance with twenty-five year-old photographer’s assistant Alana Kane (Alana Haim). On another level, the two stars are merely vehicles within a film whose narrative structure is the shaggiest of dogs, a Linklater level of meandering that uses the kinetic energy of Gary’s precociousness and Alana’s brazenness in service of ‘vibe-creating’ over ‘story-crafting,’ not that the two are mutually exclusive.
Both first-timers, Hoffman and Haim’s performances in their frenetic tryst that comprises them – either together or apart – running a waterbed business, handling unhinged celebrities, starting a pinball arcade, and working for a mayoral candidate is one of the film’s many endearing highlights.
While casting inexperienced actors is surely a risk, in Anderson and co’s hands, it’s one that pays off with an exuberance that can’t help but bleed across the entire film. Coming out the other side of a journey that features quips, comedic closeups, and well-tailored musical cues aplenty, it’s clear that executing this dynamic effectively is precisely what makes the film work so well, with its somewhat anti-climactic ending feeling not so much unjustified as comfortable and well-fitting.