Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the purest of auteur directors that the cinema world has today. He has vision and structure that center his films, but he throws in lots of twists and turns as well. Licorice Pizza is no exception.
The first two Paul Thomas Anderson films that spoke to me were Magnolia (1999) and There Will Be Blood (2007). With Licorice Pizza, he has created a film that is an artistic, if sometimes bizarre, masterpiece.
Licorice Pizza is set in 1973 in the San Fernando Valley, where we are introduced to Alana Kane and Gary Valentine, played by Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman. Gary is an entrepreneur who has the hots for Alana and he slowly drags Alana into his business world. Jack Holden is a wealthy businessman, the town tycoon, played by Sean Penn, and there is movie industry man Jon Peters, played by Bradley Cooper. Together these characters create a lot of conflict for Gary and Alana, but they also create a thrill ride of love, success, suspense, and insanity.
I saw Licorice Pizza at the Village East by Angelika in New York, in 70 mm projection, which made it an even more immersive ride. I loved feeling like I was in the 70s with the adventures of Gary and Alana in this one-of-a-kind spectacle. Don’t even think about skipping out on the 70 mm experience if it’s available.
For actor Cooper Hoffman, the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Licorice Pizza is a true work of art where he really makes his mark. Philip starred in many films directed by Anderson, and with him gone, Cooper made it feel like we were watching a young version of Philip.
Licorice Pizza is near the top of my list for the best films of 2021. I haven’t experienced anything more nostalgic and honest in a long time, and Anderson really takes the cake with this one. It’s a ride that will take audiences on an unparalleled journey, and it displays a positive message around life’s inevitable challenges. Four stars for Licorice Pizza.