‘Licorice Pizza’ is a slice of cinematic pleasure • Current editions

I have greatly appreciated that movies have come back strong in 2021. Gone is the “COVID-19 absence” of big, important movies. No more Oscar delays. Big directors, big stars and big pictures are back. And I liked a lot of this year’s offerings. But I haven’t been overwhelmed yet. I haven’t fallen in love with a movie yet.

Everything changes this weekend. Paul Thomas Anderson has been responsible for some of the greatest motion pictures of the past quarter century. But his work is often heavy and dark. Think “Magnolia,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “The Master.” But his latest is a lighthearted, fun, and sunny adventure in Southern California in the summer of 1973 called “Licorice Pizza” — named after a popular West Coast record store of the ’70s.

What makes “Licorice Pizza” so fun (besides Anderson’s original script) is the cast. Newcomers Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) are so natural on camera that I wonder why we haven’t seen them before. That said, neither possesses classic Hollywood good looks. And cinematographer Michael Bauman’s camera seems to focus on every imperfection in their young faces. These main roles are young people actually played by young people.

Hoffman’s Gary Valentine is an aspiring 15-year-old actor who once played a supporting role in a movie starring a Lucille Ball-inspired character. Alana Kane from Haim works for the photography company that does Gary’s school photos. Even though Alana is ten years her senior, the still confident Gary asks her out on a date.

Their date doesn’t involve any kisses or even big hugs. We realize Anderson’s storyline will slow the development of their relationship. And how refreshing is it? These mismatched teens not only don’t immediately jump in bed, they don’t jump in bed at all. Imagine that? A sexless love story released in 2021!

As with most friendships, Gary and Alana date others. But we still believe they have an affinity for each other that remains mostly unspoken. We feel their connection when one of them is with another – and Bauman’s camera focuses on the other part. For example, when Alana accompanies Gary to New York for a talk show appearance with her castmates from the Lucille Ball picture, she is dating one of Gary’s older co-stars. As they walk, the camera focuses on the couple holding hands, then cuts back to a dejected Gary. The same thing happens later when Alana sees him with another.

Even though he is only 15 years old, Gary has the spirit of an entrepreneur. He ran his own waterbed business that summer, employing his mother, other family members, and many of their friends and acquaintances. He later expands the business to a pinball machine shop. Although she doesn’t verbally admit it, we know Alana is impressed. But in another invigorating aspect, we get the idea that Gary isn’t doing any of this to impress Alana. He would be a successful businessman with or without her.

Whether Sean Penn plays a naughty version of William Holden (named Jack Holden), or whether Bradley Cooper plays Hollywood hairstylist and film producer Jon Peters as an absolute jerk, has no real bearing on the success of “Licorice Pizza.” “. If their roles had been played by strangers, Anderson’s film would not have suffered one iota.

The funniest cameo comes from the much lesser-known actor John Michael Higgins, who plays Jerry Frick – the man who opened the first Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles in the 1960s. During “Licorice Pizza”, his character goes through two Japanese wives who (apparently) don’t speak English. Unfortunately, Frick doesn’t speak Japanese, which leads to some hilarious scenes.

The only wrong move in “Licorice Pizza” occurs when Gary, Alana and their friends destroy some of Jon Peters’ personal possessions – seemingly in revenge for being a jerk to them when he buys one of their waterbeds. . It seems out of place that these two tracks respond with such vigor.

There is also a misplaced song on the music soundtrack. Suzy Quatro’s “Stumblin’ In” wasn’t a hit until the spring of 1979. Yet everything else in “Licorice Pizza” puts us in 1973 – from “Live and Let Die” on the movie marquee, to the President Nixon on the evening news, the long lines at gas stations. It may be a minor issue, but Anderson should have known better.

On the other hand, Anderson totally nails the 1970s look of “Licorice Pizza.” Not only are the clothes and (especially) the music correct, but the film even looks like it was made in 1973. The camera work is perfect for the period, as Anderson and Bauman focus on close-ups, quick zooms and the occasional absence of settlement plans. Even introducing characters through glass display cases is a technique first popularized in 1970s cinema.

And since Anderson is treated to some “big” (read: unforgettable) scenes — like the firecracker scene in “Boogie Nights,” the frogs in “Magnolia,” and the bowling alley scene at the end of “There Will Be Blood” — “Licorice Pizza” wouldn’t be complete without one. I guarantee I’ll never forget Alana hurtling down a steep hill after dark in a water delivery truck that was already out of gas. It’s reminiscent of Bruce Dern driving down the mountain road in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Family Plot.” Heart touching. Unforgettable. Pure Paul Thomas Anderson.

“Licorice Pizza” is exactly the breath of fresh air needed during this movie season. And barring any last-minute surprises, this is (in my opinion) the fourth year that Anderson has given us Best Picture of the Year. And as much as the success of “There Will Be Blood” was due to the gripping performance of Daniel Day-Lewis, or the success of “The Master” depended on the acting talents of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, these two newbies – Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman – literally wear “Licorice Pizza”. I expect each of them to have great careers, although I’m not sure they’ll ever play in such a special vehicle again.

And to top it off, the final scene will remind older viewers of the ending of “The Graduate,” in which Benjamin and Elaine bump into each other’s arms not knowing what their future might hold. But knowing that they want to live this together.

About Florence M. Sorensen

Check Also

The Office of Faculty Development will host the first five-college publication day on May 17: UMass Amherst

The Office of Faculty Development (OFD) will host Five College Publishing Day, a collaborative publishing …