I must admit that I didn’t know that licorice pizza is actually slang for records, the shiny black vinyl resembling licorice and the round shape comparable in size to a pizza.
It was also the name of a famous record store franchise that existed in southern California in the ’70s and ’80s.
Oddly, there is nothing in the film that references why the title Licorice Pizza – director Paul Thomas Anderson just thought it captured the essence of the story.
The other cool thing about Licorice Pizza is the director’s decision to use complete newcomers for his two main roles — and they are a revelation. He chose Cooper Hoffman, the son of his friend, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, to play Gary, a lovable 15-year-old child actor with a major crush on an older woman, and Alana Haim, a singer/musician in the popular rock trio Haim, to star as the object of Gary’s affections. To Anderson she looked like a perfect Valley girl.
It’s the turbulent ’70s in the San Fernando Valley and Licorice Pizza transports us back to a pivotal time of political turmoil, cultural change and a gas crisis. Anderson flips the usual script of the older man chasing the younger woman as 25-year-old Alana, still trying to get her act together, gets drawn in by teenager Gary’s charisma and boyish optimism. Together they start a waterbed company, audition for movies and engage in local politics. She does her best to deflect Gary’s affections (he’s convinced she’s “the one”) while they work and scheme together, have age appropriate fringe relationships, flirt with and clearly love one another, run to and from each other and learn and grow. They’re just two young people drawn to each other despite many obstacles.
Hoffman and Haim have brilliant chemistry considering the 10-year age gap, and Licorice Pizza’s exploration of the bond that this unlikely pair develops is a balancing act of laughter and emotion, and it paints a captivating and sweet portrait of young love and lust for life. It harkens us to our youth when we thought life was full of possibility and we could rule the world. With wildly unexpected moments, you never know where this movie’s going but you can’t wait to find out where it’ll end up.
Nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture, Licorice Pizza runs for a week from Friday, March 18 to Thursday March 24 at 7:30 at the Classic. Masks are optional but vaccine passports are required.
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