‘Licorice Pizza’ Movie Review: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Coming-of-Age Hangout Movie Is Drop-Dead Charming

Licorice Pizza is the hangout movie of the year. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s ninth film taps into nostalgia with witty banter and two strong central performances from newcomers Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman. Licorice Pizza has a certain chaotic quality about it that keeps its audience hooked for its entire 133-minute duration. It’s a hangout movie lover’s dream.

‘Licorice Pizza’ meaning is woven through the story

1973, San Fernando Valley, California. Gary Valentine (Hoffman) is a teenager waiting in line to have his school picture taken. He meets a photographer’s assistant named Alana (Haim) while he waits in line. She instantly captures Gary’s attention, but she rejects his advances. She’s in her 20s and Gary’s still a teenager, but his confidence is enough to convince her to become friends.

Gary and Alana join forces in running a waterbed company, auditioning for acting gigs, and hanging out with his friends. They walk the line between a friendship and a relationship set against a pivotal time of political and cultural change, as well as the gas crisis. Gary and Alana wrestle with what it means to grow up and how that will impact their volatile connection.

‘Licorice Pizza’ follows the chaotic nature of youth

Anderson’s dialogue is quick and witty from the moment the movie starts. It instantly draws the viewer into Licorice Pizza’s genuine charm that’s only elevated by moments of improv. The film’s sparkling quality extends into the movie’s more serious meaning. Gary brings up fate early on, which is a thread that weaves throughout the rest of the movie in captivating ways.

Licorice Pizza introduces a male teenager pursuing a woman in her 20s, which flips the usual script of older men chasing younger women. The age difference is sure to turn some viewers off, but the romance is well-told nonetheless. It’s never exploitative.

Haim and Hoffman both turn in stunning feature debut performances. Haim’s performance is fresh and raw in a way that truly invigorates the film’s comedic and dramatic impact. She has brilliant chemistry with Hoffman that radiates off the screen. Bradley Cooper’s short-lived presence in the movie will surely have audiences chattering, as his character just begs for more screen time.

Licorice Pizza is thoroughly charming and infectious. Anderson and Michael Bauman’s fitting cinematography emphasizes the film’s nostalgic qualities in exemplary ways. It’s very easy to get lost in Licorice Pizza and not ever want to leave its endearing world, which certainly indicates a high replay value. Anderson has a real charmer on his hands with one of his very best feature films.

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