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Licorice Pizza

*****
2021

‘…a stone-cold classic right out of the gate…’

Paul Thomas Anderson makes a welcome return to pop culture with this wonderfully freewheeling look at early 70’s life in the LA Valley. If you’ve ever wondered if the writer/director would ever make another film that was as much fun as Boogie Nights, then look no further; Licorice Pizza, which takes its name from a popular record store of the time, is exactly the film we’ve been craving. Fast, funny, romantic, and profound, it’s an absolute joy to behold and just the thing to get 2022 off to a flyer.

I first saw the band Haim at a music festival back in 2014; it was clear that the sisters had more to offer than just Fleetwood Mac covers, and so it’s no surprise to see Alana Haim racking up awards nominations for her lead performance here as photographer’s assistant named Alana Kane. While helping students with their appearance before a photo-shoot, Alana stumbles across the confident 15 year old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and the two of them become kinda friends, kinda lovers, as he sets up a business selling water-beds that leads them into all kinds of adventures.

An agreeable nostalgia trip in the style of American Graffiti or Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Licorice Pizza is light, frothy and engaging until the halfway mark, at which point it starts seriously racking up the points in terms of classic cinema. Gary organises a pinball hall and starts seeking another girl, prompting Alana to seek to pique his jealousy, not by going out with the first guy she meets, although she does try that, but with William ‘Jack’ Holden, played here by Sean Penn. The scenes in a golf club where Rex Blau (Tom Waits) organises a flaming bunker to enable Holden to jump his motorbike over in tribute to one of his earlier films is an absolute blast, but Anderson tops it with the next episode. Alana and Gary fall foul of Barbara Streisand’s manic, drug-addled partner Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper is an electric turn that recalls Alfred Molina’s Sister Christian meltdown in Boogie Nights) during a waterbed delivery, and their distain leads to a absurdly comical set-piece involving a smashed-up sports car and a stalled van which can only go backwards down a steep Hollywood hill; it’s jaw-dropping stuff.

Licorice Pizza finishes with a thoughtful coda about both giving up and/or embracing your dreams, and those who found La La Land’s finale too bittersweet can embrace the full-on romanticism here; the champagne corks really pop in a feel-good finish. But the journey is just as important as the destination, and Licorice Pizza fronts two great new stars in Haim and Hoffman, some wonderful comic turns from some big stars, cool tunes and a warm genial atmosphere that makes it an absolute must see. A stone-cold classic right out of the gate, let’s hope Licorice Pizza is a positive harbinger of a great year to come.

Licorice Pizza is out today, Jan 1st 2022 in the UK and is out in US cinemas now.

Thanks to MGM and Universal Pictures UK for access.

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  1. “the journey is just as important as the destination”, you’re so right. It’s like a journey on the first side of a old record, we’re jumping song to song, like a pinball rolling on a watered, running to the cool kiss of the end. I’d like to have B side.

  2. Managed to fit this in to my Monday quadruple bill. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Loved his potential huckster, cashing in on insider information, charming character who would have been a shoo-in for political life. She was the sort of girl that guys who lacked sisters suddenly got a wake-up call – you mean she’s going to scream and shout! Kind of free-wheeled a bit too much, like director had run out of story. And why can we get a real-life Jon Peters and an imitation William Holden – Bridges of TokoHahuHaHoo etc? Have to say took me by surprise to learn she was 25 and despite the innocence – though whipping off your bra doesn’t quite come under innocence – I was a bit taken aback by the age difference and it’s a bit ingenuous of PTA to assume that this won’t look like a female predator.

    • Re your last comment, wait till you see Red Rocket, I can’t comment due to embragoes right now, but just wait…

      So, I loved Anderson seemingly going to Jon Peters and saying; we’re potentially portraying you in a negative light, and the two of them agreeing to go all in and portray him as a full on but fictional maniac, which he certainly was. And while I’ve seen films in which mixing fact and fiction details fell flat, it keeps you on your toes here. The Jack Holden character seems to have elements of Steve McQueen and Evil Knievil, so no-one is clearly to be trusted in a 70’s shaggy dog story, although I didn’t feel they besmirched Holden at all.

      • No, Holden came out well. Surprised given his alcoholic intake by the 1970s that he could sit on a motorbike long enough but possibly that’s an instance of fiction coming to his aid. Interesting that Peters was so willing. That’s a man that loves his legend. Strei-sand Strei-sand – I wonder if he had to coach concert audiences in their chanting.

  3. I’m back; found the back door! 2022 already looking up… Mystic Pizza this isn’t, nor could I find much of Pynchon’s Inherent Vice there. Nor was I a Happy Days fan, but do adore Tom Waits. Perhaps it’s because I’m just not keen on nostalgia or coming of age angst? I will admit to owning several waterbeds and once jumping thru a flaming hula hoop sans motorcycle at a luau (singed my hair and bra less top). Having too much or not enough gas is a problem for the ages. I do agree there was a bit of a La La Land vibe. Perhaps I’ll have another go after uncorking some bubbly? You made it sound delicious.

    • You sound like you have lived far beyond the experiences of these characters. I thought the Inherent Vice adaption was well enough done, but lacks the good humour of this. I’m a sucker for nostalgia, particular for things I’ve never experienced and cannot look fondly back on. And I dig thinly disguised stories, Roman a clef, and making the likes of Peters much worse than he was ( with his permission). In fact, I’d like to see more films in which people agreed to send up their own image. Such mischief is rare, as are the central characters who CNFAF about anyone. Give it a few months and try again in streaming; the first view can be deceptive with a film that never wants to tell you where it’s going…

  4. I am just glad to hear this movie wasn’t about an actual licorice pizza. Because that would just be gross and we don’t need more grossness in ’22.

  5. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to watch more movies from the current year in 2022. So many slipped past me in 2021. This looks like a good place to start.

  6. Not sure if anyone is aware, but Licorice Pizza is a reference to vinyl record albums (black like licorice, round like a pizza). It was, in fact, a chain of U.S., Southern California record stores that dates back to 1969: the birth of the progressive-rock movement in the States. The stores went under in the mid-80s. They were popular, but probably a tier below Tower, and another below Peaches, which were two, popular — influential — stateside chains. Many thought this film was to be a ’70s version of the ’90s film, Empire Records, which it is not: thus some of the bad reviews on it due to goer misconceptions.

    KMET was a real, iconic station in Los Angeles and the billboard in the film is a perfect copy of their real billboards from in the day. B Mitchell Reed was a real jock (not fictional character created for the film) at the station.

    Now, a film about KMET: that’d be a tale to tell! But, if you look for the 1978 film, FM, it’ll give you a little insight to the station; it was written by the stations ex-sales manager.

    • Great comment, many thanks for the intel. FM is one of these films I’ve always wanted to see since I used to pore over Matlin’s chunky movies on tv guide. I’ll seek it out. I remember going to some groovy LA record shops in the 90’s, which I like to image were updates on the original stores; just such a pleasure to be in a place that was all about the music, I really miss the record shop browse. I’m not sure Licorice Pizza is a great title for the film, and I’m not mad about some of the artwork either; it’s a hard film to categorise, but maybe in the States, the title hits the right nostalgic note. Happy New Year in any case!

      • It does hit the “note” and that’s the problem. Then you go into the movie. While it is ’70s nostalgic, it’s not about the store (or radio station) and that’s rubbed viewers in the states the wrong way.

        FM isn’t that bad as has been said. But maybe my working in radio, blinds me. But I am the first to say it’s heavily padded with full songs-in-concert by Linda Ronstandt and Jimmy Buffett to fill out the thin story line.

        • Right, as if often the case, being warned off means that I’m in! If I can handle the levels of padding in Yesterday’s Hero, then I can handle this one. Like you, I’ve worked in radio a bit, and as with journalism, I’m the first to complain; that’s NOT how it works. FM is going on my list….thanks!

          That’s interesting that you feel the title backfires in the States; in the UK, people think it means a Lemon Popsicle-type movie, which doesn’t help at all. Well, when I say people, I mean me; I really didn’t fancy this at all until I saw it…

    • Doesn’t everyone?

      You don’t have to eat either licorice or pizza to enjoy this film. fact!

        • Sigh. Is this going to be the level of comments in 2022? No-one is saying you have to like them. There’s no licorice or pizza in this film, so the point, as either Rick Springfield or Oscar Wilde said, is probably moot.

          • Is this going to be the level of comments in 2022? Maybe. If we play our cards right. And as long as I have strength in my fingers to type.
            Now what if you bought a package of Twizzlers or Nibs before the show started and you were eating them in the theatre? Do you think that would be appropriate? Or just ironic?

            • Wut? Twizzlers? Nibs? Speak English, lad, what gibberish is this? Why would I be eating your confectionary? I don’t eat anything in the cinema because it’s a place of work for professionals like myself. I bet you sit guzzling glazed rotisserie chickens in the dark….

                • Sigh. What insight do you have into PT Anderson’s development as a film-maker? Do his tales of Hollywood lore gain from the deliberate embelishment of truth? No, we’re talking about your twizzles, come on, Baggy, get with the beat, it’s 2022, you CAN offer informed and erudite comments, I KNOW you can do it. Fact!

                  • Anderson has been hit and miss for me.
                    Boogie Nights was very good.
                    Magnolia was borderline terrible.
                    The Master was dull.
                    Inherent Vice wasn’t funny, which was too bad because I think it was trying.
                    Phantom Thread took too long to tell such a simple story.
                    I think that basically he puts too much into his movies. More than they can bear in some cases. I think he’s a great filmmaker who would be really well served leaving the writing duties to someone else. I also don’t share his fondness for the ’70s.

                    Now back to pizza:
                    Remember: The success or failure of a pizza joke is all in the delivery! Like so: The restaurant burned my Hawaiian pizza last night. I told them they should have put the oven on aloha setting!

                    • So what is the puncline to the joke? Can you underline it so that I can tell where it is? You seem to have a odd relationship with pizza. Maybe people might call you a weird-dough…

                      Hated Phantom Thread with a passion, was keen for him to just chuck it after that. The Master was, as you say, dull.

                      This is back to Boogie Nights, which is good news for everyone.

                    • Well if it’s back to Boogie Nights I might give it a try.

                      I don’t explain jokes though. You’ll have to ask Fraggle to help you out! She has everyone’s back.

                    • She won’t know what a nib twizzler is either, we don’t have these things….

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