San Fernando Valley, 1973. Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is a fifteen year old actor and something of a hustler. Alana Kane (Alana Haim) is a 25 year old photographer’s assistant who’s fed up with her job and family life. He’s cute and dorky; she’s feisty and sharp. The two form an unlikely friendship and over one summer, they face trials and tribulations as they start a business together and navigate what could be first love.
In ‘Licorice Pizza’, Paul Thomas Anderson has given us another youthful, celebratory 1970s-set movie (harkening back to his breakout film 1997’s ‘Boogie Nights’), distinguished by a terrific script that’s infused with care and humour. You’re totally immersed in this world and these characters from that first conversation between Gary and Alana, with the latter not being able to resist the former’s showy, charming nature.
Both our heroes want more than this small town life, and manage to get in some bonkers situations over the months (particularly one involving a U-Haul truck). As the film progresses, they push one another to frustration and envy, but also in ambition.
Of course, no ‘70s-set film would be complete without a kick ass soundtrack, and such is provided with the inclusion of such tracks as ‘Stumblin’ In’ and ‘Life on Mars’, to name just a couple. You’ve got some very funny cameos in ‘Licorice Pizza’ between Sean Penn’s zesty adrenaline junkie Jack Holden and Bradley Cooper effectively conveying film producer Jon Peters as a nutcase. There’s also an excellent, very funny scene in which Alana Kane auditions for Valentine’s agent, played by Harriet Sansom Harris.
Elsewhere, Tom Waits, Maya Rudolph, and John C. Reilly turn up, with familiar faces also stretching to Haim’s sisters, who play her character’s sisters. All the comings and goings can be distracting, but really the heart of this movie is in Hoffman (and yes, that is the son of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Alana Haim’s performances, and the undeniable chemistry they share.
Gary Valentine is a risk taker and cheeky, his cockiness landing him in trouble more than once. In spite being older, Alana Kane is going through growing pains all her own, trying to figure out what she wants from life and clashing with her family members as she pushes boundaries. Alana particularly has to put up with a lot, being a young woman in the hyper sexualised ‘70s, and in trying to find some sense of direction, a stint in politics leads to particular disillusionment. Without wanting to give too much away, safe to say the ‘Licorice Pizza’ finale feels fittingly Hollywood – in a far from disappointing way.