As I walked out of “Licorice Pizza,” someone asked what I thought of it.
“I don’t know if it’s a great film,” I said, “but I loved it.”
It stuck with me, and I couldn’t wait to see it a second time. When I finally did, my response was essentially the same.
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza” (R, 133 minutes, playing at the Cape Cinema in Dennis) doesn’t have the same depth or power as the filmmaker’s masterpiece, “Magnolia,” from 1999. It’s an episodic, rather lightweight comedy, set in 1970s San Fernando Valley, about the friendship, bordering on romance, between confident 15-year-old child actor and entrepreneur Gary Valentine and directionless 25-year-old photographer’s assistant Alana Kane.
Gary and Alana weave in and out of each other’s lives. Alana accompanies Gary as his chaperone when he heads to New York to appear in a Lucy Doolittle (think Lucille Ball) TV special; she becomes his partner when he starts a water-bed business. They share other adventures, including one involving Barbra Streisand’s womanizing boyfriend, Jon Peters (model for Warren Beatty’s character in “Shampoo”), and a harrowing ride in a truck.
Cooper Hoffman, real-life teenage son of the late, great actor and frequent Anderson collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman, plays Gary. Alana Haim, youngest sister in the pop-rock trio Haim, plays Alana. Both are making their film debuts with “Licorice Pizza,” and both are flat-out outstanding, creating charismatic, likable characters that you can’t help but root for.
(And, yes, you also can’t help but hope they wind up together, despite their age difference. Much has already been written about this “problematic” aspect of the story: She is a young woman and Gary is, after all, underage. But, maybe because Alana is so “young” for her age – she still lives with her parents and sisters, and more often than not acts like a teenager – and Gary is so driven and smart beyond his years, they seem like equals, or close to it. I’m not suggesting the age disparity is OK, nor that people who object to the film for this reason are wrong in their thinking. For me, though, in the context of this story, it’s not as troublesome as maybe it should be.)
Haim, in particular, is remarkable. Depending on the situation, her Alana is sharp-tongued, childish, sexy, innocent, daring, insecure, protective, tough, vulnerable, funny, angry and so much more. She’s a human being, typical and yet extraordinary, and Haim captures all of her complexities and contradictions with a genuine, thoroughly compelling performance. Her work in this film is easily one of the cinematic highlights of the year.
“Licorice Pizza” also boasts an impressive supporting cast, including Bradley Cooper (hilarious as incorrigible ladies’ man Peters), Sean Penn and Tom Waits. Harriet Samsom Harris delivers big laughs as a tough talent agent, and Haim’s real-life parents and sisters, as Alana Kane’s family, have some funny scenes.
Perhaps one of Anderson’s messages is that many of the older adults in the film are at least as messed up as the two central characters. His film, however, provides hope that, whether romantically or simply as dear friends, Gary and Alana will help each other find a better way, simply by being there for each other. Maybe that’s why this movie leaves you feeling so good, so alive. Maybe that’s why I can’t help but love it.
Well, for that reason and Alana Haim. **** (out of four)
Looking down on ‘Don’t Look Up’
You would hope a satire like “Don’t Look Up” (R, 138 minutes, on Netflix) would come across as unnecessary and absurd.
Two astronomers (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence) discover that a giant comet is about to crash into Earth and destroy humanity.
They try to get the world’s attention. They talk to the president (Meryl Streep), they go on talk shows. No one cares. Those in power seem much more concerned with public-opinion polls, TV ratings that come from cheerful chatter. A hip-hop artist’s latest love-life revelations gets higher billing on the news than the impending disaster.
Dumb, right? Except we know better. Whether it’s climate change or the pandemic … well, you get it. It’s become hard to overestimate the militant ignorance and corrupt values we’ve seen in recent years.
Sadly, “Don’t Look Up,” written and directed by Adam McKay (“Vice,” “The Big Short”), states the obvious. It rings true, but it’s essentially shooting fish in a barrel.
It’s also not very funny. DiCaprio’s jittery character quickly becomes tiresome. Lawrence’s character, the story’s voice of reason, would be fine if fleshed out, but comes across as flat instead. An almost unrecognizable Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry, as clueless TV anchors, and Jonah Hill, as the president’s arrogant son, stand out in a supporting cast that also includes Timothee Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Rylance and Ariana Grande. But not enough to make this film work. **
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He and Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 2 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and womr.org (archived shows at https://womr.org/schedule/broadcast-archive/). He also teaches film at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.