By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
is an odd, yet charming coming-of-age drama from director/screenwriter Paul Thomas Anderson
("Inherent Vice" and "There Will Be Blood"). The film's quirky name is taken from the long gone 1970s Southern California record/video store chain founded by James Greenwood in 1969.
"Licorice Pizza" will likely resonate with those who lived in SoCal/San Fernando Valley during the mid-1970s since the movie was filmed at several notable locations including the re-created popular steakhouse Tail O' the Cock. Surprisingly, the Licorice Pizza store isn't featured in the movie.
Memory lane stuff aside, it’s the cast of "Licorice Pizza," along with a memorable soundtrack that makes it all worthwhile.
It is 1973 and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) is preparing to take his San Fernando High School class picture. While waiting in line, the outspoken sophomore immediately notices Alana Kane (musician Alana Haim), a photographer assistant. Nevermind, that Gary is 15-years-old and she's almost 25. He’s kind of digging on her.
Gary, who is actually based on Gary Goetzman, the film producer, former child actor and co-founder of the production company Playtone with Tom Hanks, isn’t a "pretty boy," but there's something about him that begins to pique Alana's interest. It could be that he is a budding actor who has been in a few minor movies. Alana is surprised when he begins to flirt with her and yet there, she is agreeing to go out a date with this guy.
As they warm up to each other, Alana realizes that Gary has a lot more going on in his life than she does. It kind of annoys her at first, but once she realizes that Gary is so innocent and childlike in his view of the world, it makes her like him even more.
Plus, Gary is an ambitious person. In addition to the acting gig, he even opens his own waterbed business. It does quite well, and he hires Alana to work with him.
Alana knows a good opportunity when she sees it and decides to try out acting too. She is soon rubbing elbows with film director Rex Blau (Tom Waits, TV’s "Ultra City Smiths"), eccentric film producer Jon Peters (a terrific Bradley Cooper, "Nightmare Alley") and Jack Holden, (a funny Sean Penn channeling William Holden). Alana begins to like Jack too much to the dismay of Gary.
Alana and Gary have their share of ups and downs especially when Gary starts noticing another attractive girl that is his own age. There is all the high school, young love drama you’d expect in "Licorice Pizza," but with a twist since Alana is older, although not necessarily wiser than Gary.
Still, watching Haim and Hoffman navigate through their humorous adventures which play out against an array of eclectic music from Nina Simone ("July Tree"), Seals and Crofts ("Diamond Girl"), Gordon Lightfoot ("If You Could Read My Mind") and Clarence Carter’s "Slip Away," which by the way, is one of the most soulful and adulterous recordings put on wax, is what makes "Licorice Pizza" deliciously entertaining.
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Watch This Trailer For "LICORICE PIZZA"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The American Film Institute (AFI), and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.