Licorice Pizza (2021) - 8/10
Paul Thomas Anderson rarely directs anything that’s not great and although his films have changed over the years and this feels like it could be a step back, my expectations are high as Gary (Cooper Hoffman) and Alana (Alana Haim) meet in an explosive opening scene. He’s in school and smitten. She’s older and a bit rudderless. It’s California 1973 and what she lacks in confidence, he has in bucketloads. Essentially they’re each missing what the other has. Both are making their big screen debut here, but you wouldn’t guess, they’re ridiculously comfortable. Fair enough, Haim is used to being the star in her day job, but she’s fantastic here. Her whole family are, as they amusingly play her family on screen. I guess great chemistry is nailed on when it’s real. Gary is full of teenage lust and fearless ambition, but love’s path is seldom smooth and Gary’s inexperience soon begins to show. This though feels like much more than an awkward love story. There’s just so much going on. Gary’s a hustler and gets himself into some weird situations. A part time child actor, waterbed salesman, mistaken for a murderer, it’s pretty bonkers, but it’s a lot of fun. Flared jeans, bad haircuts, getting high, warm sun bleached days, The Doors and Bowie playing in the background as a weird American who owns the local Japanese restaurant keeps turning up speaking English with a terribly questionable accent. Then Sean Penn arrives as a sleazy casting agent. He’s great too, but it’s a testament to Haim that she easily goes toe to toe with him. Want to test her chops further, sure let’s throw Tom Waits into the mix! PTA’s genius is taking all this crazy distraction and letting it swirl around without ever letting the focus drop from the unlikely couple that aren’t a couple at the centre. Now sure, this relationship is questionable to say the least. Gary’s a teenager, Alana in her 20s. No laws are broken, but it’s still a bit weird. Truthfully though it’s one of the less weird things about Licorice Pizza. A hirsute lecherous Bradley Cooper, threatening punters at a gas station during a fuel crisis comes to mind as just one distracting scene. It’s a hot mess of a film. I’m not sure I love it, but I really really like it. A lot of this is down to Haim. Hoffman is good, shares the screen wonderfully, but does chew it a bit, along with an impressive cast of cameos. Haim though, she’s the anchor. Portraying a powerhouse in the middle of a maelstrom of male posturing. It’s wild, unconventional, but has a lot of heart. I might need to watch it again to judge it properly, but the fact that I’ll happily do that says a lot.