Licorice Pizza Review

Media provided by Managing Editor, Olivia Berger ’22.

Oscar season is fast approaching, and there are many top contenders such as “The Power of the Dog,” “Belfast,” “King Richard,” and “West Side Story.” Still, one of the strongest contenders is the new Paul Thomas Anderson movie, “Licorice Pizza”, which has been dubbed one of his best movies in his filmography so far (Screen Rant).

Anderson is one of the most decorated directors in the last 30 years that has come out of the Neo-Hollywood directing movement, a movement that has expanded the thematics and styles used in modern-day Hollywood to induced much more personalized and exact themes on the human condition, the movement includes other directors such as Quinton Tarantino, Spike Lee, and Wes Anderson. He has been a part of a long list of classics; arguably some of the most impactful ones being “The Master,” “There Will be Blood,” and “Boogie Nights,” as well as other critically-acclaimed films including “Magnolia,” “Phantom Thread,” and “Inherent Vice.” These were all Oscar-nominated movies, and many won those nominations.

His most recent movie, “Licorice Pizza” (the title is a reference to a chain of record stores in the 70s), follows characters Alana Kane and Gary Valentine, two wide-eyed teenagers who slowly fall in love. They do this while making their way across the San Fernando Valley as they venture into the worlds of various small businesses.

The movie has an all-star cast of Hollywood legends including Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn, and John C. Reilly. The film also boasts relative newcomers Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, son of the late great Phllip Seymour Hoffman, a regular in Anderson’s earlier movies.

Anderson is known for depicting the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s; some of his most acclaimed movies have used the same setting. The film itself is based on the experiences of Anderson, who grew up in the Valley himself. Many of the characters are based on real people: Gary Valentine is based on Gary Goetzman, a former waterbed salesman who now is co-owner of the production company, Playtone, with his work colleague and longtime friend, Tom Hanks. Goetzman has become a big Hollywood producer, working on films like “Philadelphia,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Greyhound,” and “The Polar Express.” 

With Anderson’s more famous works, he focuses on the ideas of success and moral corruption. On the other hand, his recent films diverge from this style and lean on themes of love, family, and alienation. “Licorice Pizza” returns the director to his former, more lauded directing style while incorporating elements that also work well in his more recent films.

After seeing the movie, I was pleasantly surprised by how Anderson managed to incorporate many of the well-known themes of new and old movies: a strategy that I hope to see incorporated in more of his upcoming movies. The performances were astounding. Hoffman’s performance as Gary Valentine channeled the same energy and emotion that made his father a legend in the industry. Another standout, Haim brought power and strength to her lines as the headstrong and often persistent Alana Kane. Neither of them were nominated for their work in the movie — which I think is a travesty — but I expect to see big things from these two going forward. 

The movie’s only downfall is that many of its plot points dragged on longer than they should have. Because they focused on so many intertwining plots, neither one seemed to reach its full potential. Despite this, I think “Licorice Pizza” is a worthy Oscar contender and will go down in history as one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s most pivotal works.