‘Licorice Pizza’ is a visual feast bursting with brilliant performance

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Cooper Hoffman, left, and Alana Haim in “Licorice Pizza”. (Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc.)

From “Boogie Nights” to “Magnolia” to “There Will Be Blood” and “Phantom Thread”, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has created some of the most immersive and masterful works of the past quarter century, solidifying his position as one of the great filmmakers of his generation. It adds another instant classic to its library with the 1970s period comedy / drama ‘Licorice Pizza’, which never goes wrong and always entertains us and is the kind of movie we can’t wait to see again, because we know we’re going to enjoy it even more the second time around.

Can you say I loved this movie?

“Licorice Pizza” has a “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” sort of vibe, in that it’s a revisionist slice of showbiz history mixing real and purely fictional characters. But the most obvious influences are the works of writers Hal Ashby (“Shampoo”) and Robert Altman (“Short Cuts”, “The Player”), as Anderson once again demonstrates his genius for an ensemble cast. perfect, and an uncanny ability to weave multiple on-going storylines into a cohesive, exhilarating, and surprisingly authentic overall story. Whether Anderson is working with accomplished veterans or bright, shiny newcomers, he has a way to coax the best of them.

Set in the sun-drenched San Fernando Valley during Nixon’s day, teeming with bell bottoms, sideburns, mini-skirts, long hair, waterbeds and pinball machines, with needle drops like as “Peace Frog” by the doors, “If You Could Read My Mind” by Gordon Lightfoot, “Let Me Roll It” by Paul McCartney and Wings and “Lisa, Listen to Me” from Blood, Sweat & Tears go a long way in donating. the tone, “Licorice Pizza” opens on the day of the yearbook photo at a local high school. We meet Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of Anderson’s frequent collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman) as he tries to set up a date with the photographer’s assistant, Alana Kane, 25. (musician Alana Haim), and yes, it would probably never be a plot point in a great movie if the genres were flipped, but in Anderson’s hands the potential romance never feels creepy or exploitative.

Alana brushes aside Gary’s advances, reminding him that he’s just a kid, but she’s intrigued by this hyperactive teenager and his talk about his acting career with a handful of movies, TV shows and acting. advertisements on his resume, not to mention his big plans for all kinds of lucrative endeavors. In one of the many expertly rendered sets of “Licorice Pizza”, Alana accompanies Gary as a chaperone on a trip to New York for a live reunion of the wacky comedy “Under One Roof”, a version of the parallel universe. from the 1968 Lucille Ball comedy “Yours, Mine and Ours”. (This film is loosely based on the experiences and stories of Anderson’s longtime friend, actor and producer Gary Goetzman.) It’s a wonderfully bizarre slice of showbiz life in the early 1970s. .

Over an undetermined period of time, Gary and Alana move in and out of each other’s lives, with Gary still hoping for romance and Alana seeing Gary as her platonic best friend – until she finally considers one. true romance with this crazy, one-of-a-kind character. Writer-director Anderson offers a myriad of fantastically entertaining subplots, ranging from a dinner party at Alana’s (with Haim’s siblings and real parents as his family) to the burgeoning political campaign of real Los Angeles politician Joel. Wachs (Benny Safdie) in The extended cameo worthy of a Bradley Cooper nomination as hairstylist turned producer Jon Peters, described here as a manic, narcissistic, slick jerk who may or may not be perfect. The abundance of dramatic riches continues when Sean Penn appears as a spiritual cousin to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” with a side dish from William Holden. The macho star performs a death-defying motorcycle stunt on the Van Nuys golf course for a crowd that follows him out of a restaurant.

(Another subplot generated a ton of controversy even before the full-scale release of “Licorice Pizza”, as it involves a racist restaurateur played by John Michael Higgins who has a streak of Japanese wives and speaks with an exaggerated Asian accent. and offensive. At the press screening for “Licorice Pizza” I laughed at – not with – this character, because he was such a horrible caricature. I can certainly understand and respect those who think the character is exploitative and plays with racial stereotypes, but I felt it was a legitimate portrayal, through the 1970s, of a clueless idiot.)

With top-notch production values ​​and 35mm cinematography gloriously steeped in memory, “Licorice Pizza” is a visual feast brimming with incredibly crisp dialogue, hilarious comedic vignettes, brilliant performances by Hoffman and Haim as well as the veteran and stars. cast iron, and a real heart. It is one of the best movies of 2021.


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