Paul Thomas Anderson’s most recent film, the 1973 set coming-of-age drama Licorice Pizza, is a marvellous watch that, with PTA’s unique kiss, quickly blossoms into a glorious movie that lovingly welcomes the audience into its warm embrace. For 134 minutes we glide through the San Fernando Valley, adventuring with Alana (Alana Haim) and Gary (Cooper Hoffman) as they explore the winding streets of first love, encountering along the way an eclectic mix of wacky and wonderful characters and adventures. As a duo, a better debut does not come to mind; their chemistry on screen is electric, mesmerising, and simply amazing. PTA has really pulled out the honey for this film; it’s a luscious, rich, and soothing movie that I expect will be a fierce contender for Best Picture.
To call this a good film, I feel, would be an insult. Of course it’s a good film. When PTA said “I have a feeling… I’ll make pretty good movies the rest of my life,” he was absolutely right, perhaps even modest. His films are fantastic. Unique. Funny. Upsetting. Disturbing. Peculiar. Quirky. Throughout Licorice Pizza I was captivated, and I was having fun! Now wait, that’s not to say I don’t have fun with other movies (the only fun I have is with movies), but this one, like many hangout movies, is also physically enjoyable to watch. You are there as a collective, gazing in awe at the cinema screen with your fellow cine-folk; there’s no better way to watch it. It’s the perfect movie to watch with your lover, your mates, your mum, your colleagues… and don’t hold me to this, but Licorice Pizza would make a great date movie. Overall, PTA's ninth film is an experience; we’re just gliding through the San Fernando summertime with these two gorgeous leads, joining them in whatever endeavours they pursue and just having a totally awesome time. Or perhaps I should say, in a stoned Californian slur: ‘it’s far out, man!’
Like the puddle on Jon Peters’ (Bradley Cooper) floor, a stream of emotion trickles through the film. Licorice Pizza offers a perfect encapsulation of one of the most beautiful but challenging things about being young, even of life itself: falling in love for the first time, and the ups and downs and twists and turns such an adventure brings you. The film – although considerably delayed – has hit cinemas at the perfect time; with your cinema audience, you are whisked away from the chaos raging outside, and placed in the warm, sexy summer of ’73, where you’re presented with an expertly-crafted film that shows the joys of being young and the blissful naivety that accompanies.
There’s just something so heartwarming and sweet about joining a bunch of kids nearing the cusp of adolescence (bar Alana who’s 25) running around, exploring, getting up to mischief and doing whatever the hell they want to do. In attempting to place my finger on where the beauty is in this film, perhaps it’s in the independence and spontaneity of the characters; how they all seem to embrace any adventure or opportunity they come across – however dangerous – and happily invite us along with them. We don’t know where they’ll end up, but neither do they!
Flaws? I can’t think of any, but I don’t trust myself as a judge as I’m a devout PTA fan. I guess on the second watch I clocked the age gap more; Alana is written as 25 when Gary is only 15. I can understand how some viewers could find it uncomfortable, but I think PTA has been respectable with how he devises the dynamic and boundaries in Alana and Gary’s relationship. The age gap didn’t bother me, but I can see how it could affect some people. Also, the people that I saw the film with complained about the duration, that it was 20 minutes too long or that the pace dropped after 90 minutes. I would disagree; it simply mirrors the pace of Alana and Gary’s relationship, and the stages it undergoes.
Unbelievably and slightly trepidatiously, I would say that Licorice Pizza isn’t a movie that absolutely must be seen in the cinema, but why on earth would you watch it anywhere else? Come on. It’s only gonna be here, fresh out the oven, for another month or so. Get to your local cinema! You need the audience reactions, you need the surround sound blasting its wonderful score, you need to be smothered in a gigantic screen, you need to see it projected on film, and you need to leave the cold and moody English January to transport yourself to summertime LA, baby.
Of course, the film looks fantastic. Seeing the hazy, carefree late-summer backdrop of PTA’s 1970’s California in an English winter isn’t far off torture, but I assure you, for the film’s duration, you’re there, in LA, living the film alongside your audience. Licorice Pizza is currently doing the rounds and will be in a cinema near you. PTA has publicly named the Prince Charles Cinema one of his favourites in the world, so perhaps out of loyalty to him you should grab some friends – hell, grab anyone – and brighten up their day with a trip to see this beautiful movie. I saw the blown-up 70mm print at Picturehouse Central, which made this fantastic experience ten times better, however, I’m not sure how long this print will be around so go, grab a buddy and get down there!
Paul Thomas Anderson’s ninth film, Licorice Pizza, is just one of those movies that has you smiling throughout. Shortly after leaving the cinema, that smile dissolves into dismay when you realise you’re not hanging out with the movie anymore. So, I guess then, that it’s how this film makes its audience feel – both during and after – where the true magic lies. It’s beyond a ‘feel good’ movie; it’s something more divine, something more beautiful, something, simply, more enjoyable. To sum it up in a word? Blissful.
Edited by Saffron Brown Davis, Film Editor