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Review of Licorice Pizza Review: A Sweet, Well-Crafted Movie

San Fernando Valley, 1973. The perfect setting for a coming-of-age comedy-drama from none other than Paul Thomas Anderson, the visionary director behind fantastic films such as Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and There Will Be Blood. This time around, he has given us Licorice Pizza, a movie about teenager Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) who falls in love with photographer’s assistant Alana Kane (Alana Haim). The two start a waterbed company, audition for movies, and interact with Old and New Hollywood figures.

Anderson is a master at what he does. Few directors have helmed the cinematic language as adeptly as he has, and at this point, it may be impossible for him to make a bad movie. Of course, not all his films are for everyone, but he understands his craft, and that is on full display with this movie that, for the most part, succeeds at what it wants to pull off.

This movie feels old-fashioned right from the opening logos. A film that takes place in the ’70s should feel like it was made in the ’70s, and Anderson does a remarkable job of evoking that era. Anderson makes the excellent choice of shooting the film in 35mm, allowing for a movie that feels so much like a product of its time with nostalgia and beauty in its simplicity. His filmmaking voice is polished and powerful in one of his more lighthearted outings.

Anderson films all have a similar style with a distinct tone. For example, Boogie Nights feels nothing like Phantom Thread, and this movie has a whimsical tone that feels unprecedented for Anderson. If one really wanted to, they could compare the ’70s setting to Boogie Nights or the romantic simplicity to Punch-Drunk Love. Still, this movie captures something fascinating and unique with its warmth and how Anderson uses his distinct sense of humor at all the right moments.

This is the type of movie that only a filmmaker of Anderson’s caliber could pull off. The two leads, Hoffman and Haim, have never acted in a feature film before, but they work wonders together. Haim is magnificent in her funny, sexy role as Alana, a character who is incredibly charming to watch as she bounces perfectly off of Hoffman. Anderson has worked with Philip Seymour Hoffman on many of his films, and it’s lovely to see him work with Hoffman’s son, who appears to have his father’s talents. The chemistry between our two leads is the film’s selling point, and the magic between the two is indescribable.

But the film falters a little in its screenplay. The movie has many characters, many of whom are intended to be figures of ’70s Hollywood. Bradley Cooper arrives for a few scenes in the film as a producer named Jon Peters, and while he’s fun to watch, the story feels as if it’s bending over backward to go to new places when ultimately, the film ends up wearing out its welcome. The movie could have used fewer subplots and a greater focus on the two leads, who are marvelous when they share the screen.

Something that may rub some audiences the wrong way is Anderson’s moments of off-color writing in his use of stereotypes. Anderson could have written these moments better and handled the ideas with more nuance. Furthermore, the film’s sentimental ending doesn’t feel inventive enough for an Anderson film, going down a route that’s already been taken.
However, the movie works due to Anderson’s impeccable visual style, which he has honed over the past 25 years as one of the finest writers and directors working today. It’s a sweet, well-crafted movie that has every ounce of Anderson’s brilliance as a storyteller despite not necessarily being one of his best works.

SCORE: 7/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7 equates to “Good.” A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.

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