Starring: Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, and Skyler Gisondo
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Licorice Pizza might be my favorite movie of 2021. This is writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s lightest movie to date, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking the same masterwork that he usually presents. However, this time, it’s a sweet coming-of-age love story. Co-leads Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim both give star-making performances and have some amazing chemistry together. It has some very funny moments (especially from Bradley Cooper) and some fun odes to the 70s, but it never loses track of its relatable theme of finding your place in the world.
Though imperfect in pacing and marked by one or two unnecessary elements, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza is nonetheless a delight to experience. The sentimental tale of Californian adolescence in the 70s is totally sincere in its sweetness toward its characters and setting, and it’s all-too-easy to fall in love with them both. Cooper Hoffman is relentlessly charming as Gary Valentine, but it’s his chemistry with (and the stellar performance of) first-time actress Alana Haim that really lands the plane. Haim, in particular, could easily be up for an Oscar nod. What a performance! What a picture!
Despite being a meandering movie that is more about capturing the essence of the 70s than telling an A-to-B story, Licorice Pizza stays engaging. However, the base plot gets extremely creepy if you think about it for more than two seconds because it earnestly follows the semi-toxic courtship between a 25-year-old woman (Alana Haim) and a 15-year-old boy (Cooper Hoffman) as if it’s an adorable love story that everyone should root for. Such things shouldn’t be romanticized. This troublesome message, made worse by the unlikability of Hoffman’s character, torpedoes all the otherwise excellent things the film has going for it.