Licorice Pizza: Not Your Usual “Love” Story

An overly confident 15-year-old boy and a directionless 25-year-old woman floating from job to job. Not exactly who you’d picture as best friends; but they are the leads in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest work “Licorice Pizza.” Set in the early seventies, Southern California, the time period is captured so naturally, it makes the viewer feel as though they are nostalgic for a period they did not live through.

The film is edited as though you are watching little fragments or episodes of the character’s lives. But they are moments that are essential in telling the story and developing these characters.
Cooper Hoffman plays the 15-year-old former child actor, Gary Valentine. Singer Alana Haim, whom this part was written specifically for by Anderson, makes her big screen debut opposite Hoffman as Alana Kane.

The two leads meet in the opening scene when Alana is working as a photography assistant at Gary’s school for picture day. Gary tries to charm her from the first second, and for obvious reasons, like Gary being ten years younger than her, Alana is not having it.

But Gary is convinced he met the girl he is going to marry, and he asks her out to dinner that night. The two meet that night and start an instant but unlikely friendship, and this film explores that awkwardness.
From that point on, Gary and Alana start a business together, selling an item that is very of its time, water beds.

In the remainder, we see the two leads go on quirky adventures, like Alana taking Gary to New York to perform in a reunion of a play her was in as a child. Or when Gary and Alana are delivering one of their beds to Jon Peters, a real-life person who was a Hollywood producer, played by Bradley Cooper.

This adventure takes up a good chunk of the climax of this film, and we see a whole sequence of scenes of them inside Peters’ house, Peters causing a scene at the gas station; Peters trying to hit on two women in the street, getting turned down, and throwing a garbage can through a glass window of a storefront.

After that whole incident takes place, Alana has a turning point, and decides she needs to get her life together, that it’s not normal or healthy for her to have such a close bond with a fifteen-year-old boy and his friends. She and Gary have a big blowout, and she ends up landing a job at a local mayoral candidate’s office through a mutual friend. Alana thinks that she might even have a budding romance with the man who is running for mayor. That is, until one night changes everything.

After the office is closed one night, the mayoral candidate calls Alana and says he forgot something at the office and asks Alana if she can meet him. She discovers that he is out with his boyfriend, and she is a buffer, so that onlookers will not suspect anything of him and this man.

In this moment, Alana discovers she needs Gary, whether this relationship may be a little strange or not. At the end of the film, her and Gary share a tight embrace and a kiss.

Part of me enjoyed this film and how well it captured the 1970s, and part of me thought this film was thoroughly strange. This is not a film you throw on for easy viewing, as the editing can be a little confusing at times, and you must be an active viewer the entire time.

Also, let’s address the elephant in the room: the age-gap. It is sort of addressed in the film, and how uncomfortable it is, but I still cringed when the two leads kissed. I think the film redeems itself in all of its quirkiness and kind of revels in it. The scene with Peters is so out there that it gives the film its own true identity unlike your run-of-the-mill rom-com or comedy.

Also, both Haim and Hoffman are so natural in their characters, and Anderson does not shy away from showing their faults and awkwardness, that it ends up making the film more relatable and charming to the viewer. Some of the scenes may not seem relevant to the storyline or pushing a narrative, but it makes the film feel that much more like it is something that is happening in real life. Again, the editing, although confusing at times to me, does feel like it is snapshots of their life that we just have the privilege of seeing in that moment.