“Licorice Pizza,” Review: The Exciting Story of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Coming of Age


The best example of Chekhov’s weapon that I have seen in a while is in Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, “Licorice Pizza”. The film, set in the filmmaker’s native San Fernando Valley in the early 1970s, is a partly autobiographical and pugnacious coming-of-age story for a teenage actor and an eventful journey of self-discovery for a dreamer in his twenties. . But, taking again the details of the cinema which push the action, Anderson shows a rare and joyful narrative audacity: he transforms the film into a full-fledged version of “Once Upon a Time.” . . in Hollywood ”, although far superior to Quentin Tarantino’s because, unlike Tarantino, Anderson doesn’t drink Kool-Aid. He does not defer to the selfish and self-growing mythology of Hollywood, but rather subjects it to an extremely detailed, dramatically exhilarating and satirically incisive examination.

The film begins as the story of a pickup truck by a young would-be con artist: Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman), 15, on his way to the high school gymnasium to take his yearbook photo, is instead caught with a young woman named Alana Kane (musician Alana Haim), who works for the photographer – and who is ten years older (maybe even a little older; she changes history). He invites her out bravely, and when she asks him how he can afford it, he cheekily flaunts his meager credits as an actor, including minor roles in major films and a few appearances in comedy skits. Gary, despite his youth, is a mini man of the world, active, connected, ambitious; Alana, despite her age, is somewhat lost, living at home with her parents and two sisters (yes, played by the other two Haim members and their real parents – and the family brings an ancient Jewish angle to the story. ).

The differences in experience and temperament of the protagonists constitute the linchpin of the film. It is important to note that there is no sexual relationship between Gary and Alana (although it is not because of his lack of interest). The age difference is final: he’s a minor, and she doesn’t even think about it. But there’s an emotional, intense relationship, and the very plausibility of it is rooted in the work experience, which makes Gary, an otherwise awkward teenager with a gift of mundane chatter, fascinating to Alana. For her part, Alana is also passionately energetic, but her wheels turn without engaging. With no connection to Hollywood, she is, in fact, a city dweller, a stranger in the center of attention and excitement of her hometown, and, with her natural imagination and the absence of a specific art, the films – the art of nature – emerging, through Gary’s Influence, as a sudden and plausible new possibility.

These energies keep the entire movie going at a breakneck pace. In the early ’70s when the action unfolds, there were only two ways to shake things up – phone someone or go somewhere – and the movie is filled with words and quick walks, of racing, driving and flying, rushing and entering, and with the opportunities of sudden and surprising handshakes that trigger dramatic changes in fortune. Despite all of its linear drama (not a flashback or time jump film), “Licorice Pizza” is a film of immense and swirling complexity and its elaboration – like that of other recent films, including “The French Dispatch”, “Zola”, and “C’mon C’mon” – presents itself as a kind of challenge, resistance to current modes of easy and consumable viewing. It is also a form of access. The film darkens and advances, as if escaping its own present and leaving only memories, without nostalgia, for they are filled with the cruelty and indifference of the time, but lucid about the chances experience that time and place presented nonetheless. When, shortly after meeting, Alana and Gary go out to a bar – Gary’s mother, a restaurant advertiser, has connections that make him a regular in the world adult of gastronomy – she sees him as a future star and a big hit that ‘I’ll forget him quickly. “I won’t forget you. Just like you won’t forget me, ”said the arrogant but romantic young man. The film itself is the mark of this memory, as well as a memory of the time.

It was a time of grotesque power imbalances and under-the-radar abuse, which Anderson relentlessly portrays. Alana works for the photographer in a tight-fitting hot pants uniform and silently endures his occasional sexual harassment. Gary’s mother Anita (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) works for a restaurateur (John Michael Higgins) who talks to his Japanese “wives” (yes, more than one) in a racist parody of English with a Japanese accent, and his waitresses are Caucasian women. forced to wear makeup as geishas. Going about his own business at a youth fair, Gary is arrested by the police, who drag him outside, handcuff him to a train station chair, and then, when their suspicions that he is a murderer are allayed. (without a lawyer or parents contacted), let him go without any consideration. Yet Anderson, neither unilaterally critical nor unilaterally nostalgic, also describes the times as a time when a lot could be accomplished quickly by the right kind of person in the right place, thanks to the less contentious, legalistic way of doing things. and bureaucratic. things back then, office buildings without guards or access cards, the few guarantees and fewer questions asked. With the strength of his personality, Gary worked his way into the waterbed business, then broke into a local radio station to get free publicity from a hip dj. Alana is her partner in this cowardly and wild endeavor, and their common entrepreneurship is what solidifies their relationship – their bond between them is also Alana’s bond to the world, the first thing she does that has practical effect. (In one notable comedic scene, she makes phone sales that come across as a knowing and affectionate parody of similar scenes from “The Wolf of Wall Street.”)

However, among the projects inspired by the two friends (or rather platonic lovers), the biggest prize remains the one at hand: the film industry. “Being the Ricardos” is not the only film of the year in which Lucille Ball appears; here, she is played (by Christine Ebersole) as Lucy Doolittle, the star of a movie in which Gary appears (the one that looks like “Yours, Mine and Ours”). Needing a chaperone for his appearance with her, alongside a host of other child actors, on a talk show in New York City, Gary enlists Alana for the trip, which is chock-full of micro-assaults from the Hollywood escalation. and crackles with Gary’s romantic bravado. (Lucy is layman, asking Gary if her two-fingered peace sign means “” V “for” vagina “” and literally violent, whipping him backstage for his unscripted stage antics.) At home, the working actor’s banalities take hold, with Gary auditioning for a pimple cream commercial and Alana arousing his jealousy with a more successful young actor on the show.

Avoiding spoilers, these scenes are far from being the only visions of the company – and not the most significant – offered by “Licorice Pizza”. When I saw the film, I was stunned by the abandoned Falstaffian majesty of the Hollywood scenes that erupt midway and pick up the story, and all the more dazzled by the outrageous yet meticulously logical narrative audacity with which Anderson builds them up and resolves them, both plotally and emotionally. Gary manages to get Alana downstairs as an actress – and she finds herself the prey of a glamorous middle-aged man, Jack Holden (Sean Penn), who holds court at a bar called Tail. o ‘the Cock (a real place) in gargling lingo that mixes the scripts from movies he starred in (similar to those starring the real William Holden) and his own raw feelings with the PR fabrications he came to believe. His flirtatious routine, combined with his desperate love of applause, encouraged by a saw-voice winger played by Tom Waits, is likely to really hurt. Then the waterbed company plants Gary, Alana and their young cohorts in the bedroom of Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper), who in real life was Barbra Streisand’s partner at the time and who here is at the both loathsome to Gary and brazenly creepy to Alana. (Revenge is both sublime and extremely dangerous.)


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