Licorice Pizza is rated R.

The following contains spoilers for Licorice Pizza.

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza released exclusively to theaters on Dec. 25, 2021. Before the wide release, the film showed in select theaters across the United States. 

Licorice Pizza follows 15-year-old Gary (Cooper Hoffman) and 25-year-old Alana (Alana Haim) as they come of age in the 1970s. Gary falls for Alana as she assists at his school photo day. He tries to win her over despite their age difference.

licorice pizza
FLYING. Alana chaperones Gary on a plane trip to New York. photo/Universal Pictures

Without ever explicitly stating that Alana is a bad person, the film shows how she leads Gary on. The age difference between the two characters is jarring to watch.

The power imbalance is shown frequently. In addition to meeting at a school, Alana chaperones Gary on a trip to New York. Also, Alana drives Gary around throughout the film because he is not old enough to drive.

This set-up seems like the director has something to say about the age difference. However, the idea of the power imbalance goes nowhere.

Because of this, the main issue of the film arises at the end. The last shot is of Alana and Gary kissing each other for the first time. This ending makes the film feel purposeless. 

Licorice Pizza could have been about people learning and growing with each other even though they can never be together. Instead, it feels like the director was trying to tell the audience that if a minor begs enough, they can have a relationship with an adult.

Any lesson or theme learned is immediately lost in the final scene. Thematically and structurally, the film would benefit from a more platonic ending.

Despite the ending, Gary’s character developed through his friendship with Alana. With the help of Alana, he started a business he was passionate about. There was not a need for the relationship to become romantic, even if Gary had feelings for her.

In his acting debut, Hoffman portrays the character in a way that makes one root for him. Hoffman brings confidence and charm to the character. His character seems like a child that can take on the responsibility of adulthood.

Also in her acting debut, Haim plays her character in the opposite way. Her character is immature. Alana is an adult, but refuses to accept responsibility. 

Alana’s character never completely develops. She often acted out, by getting angry quickly or spending time with older men to make Gary jealous. Alana stays emotionally immature from beginning to end.

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WAITING. Gary looks for Alana at the opening of his pinball business. photo/Universal Pictures

Her immaturity made it easier for audiences to see why she would continue spending time with Gary. She becomes the villain of the story, without making the audience despise her.

Another fault of the film is the handful of racist jokes towards Asian people. Gary knows a white man who owns a Japanese restaurant. The man mocks an Asian accent a couple of times. 

The scenes are framed to make fun of the man mocking the accent. The scenes are not a direct endorsement of the behavior, rather a reflection of the time period. However, the audience already knows the time period the film is set in.

Racism does not need to be included to make the era authentic. The scenes do not affect the main characters and the director does not justify the inclusion to the story.

The scenes feel incredibly out of place and unnecessary for the film. If these scenes were removed, the film would remain exactly the same. Anderson’s inclusion of the scenes feel like an odd choice.

The best aspect of the movie is the cinematography and direction. Anderson uses his signature long takes throughout the film. He omits cuts in some scenes to establish the characters and the settings. 

For example, in one scene Gary works at a teen fair. A long take shows the busy energy of the location and how Gary fits in it.

Additionally, Anderson uses lighting to warm up scenes and make them feel nostalgic. Scenes are lit in orange and yellow lights to feel as if one is looking at an old photo. The style reminds audiences of their own time coming of age.

Overall, Licorice Pizza provides interesting direction, writing and performances. The film finds fault when it comes to the inclusion of the racist scenes and the unsatisfying ending.

The Hilights:

Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffmon, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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