Licorice Pizza is a load of crap. I don’t mean this in regard of how it is made; it is well acted and shot and it has some great characterisation, but the narrative is based on a series of anecdotes told to director Paul Thomas Anderson by one time child actor, businessman and film producer Gary Goetzmann that I’m convinced must be total bull.
To be fair, I think the flimsy grip on truth may be acknowledged by the director with the very last line, delivered by the female lead. The words spoken seems to give the guy everything he has been hoping for from the start but they are apparently said without her moving her lips. Either this the worst bit of ADR ever, or it is a statement that it is all in his head. Nonetheless, presented as genuine or not, the whole story where a fifteen year old kid is revered by everyone in his neighbourhood, starts up a series of successful business from nothing, smashes up a sports car and attracts the attention of a pretty women ten years his senior, is nothing but a ridiculous teenage boy’s fantasy. As such it is all utterly unconvincing and it took me out of the movie. It would have annoyed me if some cocky oik had tried to spin me these yarns when I was at school and it annoyed me now.
This is exacerbated by the fact that he, also called Gary, is not that likeable. It’s not the performance of Cooper Hoffman, who is the son of long term Anderson collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman, as he is very good but the character is a bit of an obnoxious creep, even aside of the incessant BS. Alana Haim is very natural opposite him as well, it is an impressive acting debut from both of them, but seeing her at twenty five flirting with someone barely into their teenage is discomforting. It isn’t predatory but it still doesn’t feel right. Imagine if the genders had been switched.
The name of the movie Licorice Pizza is another name for a vinyl record, popularised by a chain of music stores that operated in California in the 70s and 80s. Paul Thomas Anderson chose it for this movie as he said it evoked that period for him. For me it though sounded like something that would prove really disappointing if someone served it up to you and having seen the film it turned out to be the perfect title.
I know this film has been celebrated elsewhere, even being cited by several respectable publications as among the best of last year, but personally I didn’t connect with it at all. It just wasn’t my thing, no matter how you slice it.
The Ripley Factor:
The lead female character, also called Alana, has agency and strong characterisation and the film is probably more about her than him. There is one scene with a truck where she absolutely rocks. Sadly though I couldn’t get past the fact that the whole film is basically some horny kid fantasising over her for two hours.