by Sarah Cook
Paul Thomas Anderson has carved out a totally distinctive filmography over the past 25 years from his debut Hard Eight through to 2017’s Phantom Thread. Along the way, he has jumped between genres with some films like There Will Be Blood and The Master far darker than some of his other work. His latest is the coming of age comedy Licorice Pizza which stars Alana Haim from the Indie act Haim and son of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Copper Hoffman, Seymour Hoffman was of course a regular collaborator with Anderson.
The film is built around the relationship between Haim’s Alana Kane and Hoffman’s Gary Valentine, an unhappy 25-year-old photographer’s assistant and a 15-year-old successful child actor. For a pair of newcomers, both give impressive performances with Haim able to convey Alana’s dissatisfaction with her situation and a clear fascination with the lifestyle and opportunities offered by Gary. The rest of the Haim family including the sisters Danielle and Este also appear in the film as Alana’s family.
Outside of the pair, the supporting cast are more bit players with extended cameos from Tom Waits and Sean Penn as ageing actor Jack Holden, clearly a nod to the Hollywood great William Holden. The pair are fun but not given enough substance to leave a lasting impact. Perhaps the most notable supporting player is Bradley Cooper who gives a dynamic and destructive performance as Jon Peters, Cooper’s role is perhaps too small to generate awards discussion but he is clearly having a blast in the role.
The 70s is clearly an era that Anderson holds reverence for with several of his previous films set in the decade. As such this looks and feels like it has been lifted directly from the era and this is where the film truly excels. It is absolutely stunning visually from dark smoky bars at night to the warm vistas of the LA sunrise. We get a glimpse of a cinema showing 1973’s Live and Let Die, a clear nod to the year the film is set in.
The soundtrack is an eclectic mix of both well-known pop and rock songs and some deep-cuts featuring Wings, David Bowie’s Life On Mars, Nina Simone and Gordon Lightfoot. The original score was composed by Johnny Greenwood who has collaborated with Anderson on his last few films, his work is afforded less of an opportunity to stand out here than on Phantom Thread or There Will Be Blood with a greater focus on the music of the period.
The tonal jump from Anderson’s previous films is one of its biggest assets with the repartee between Alana and Gary sweet and often very funny. The film certainly isn’t shy of more serious moments but it shows Anderson has an aptitude for comedy something he has perhaps exhibited best previously in Boogie Nights and Punch Drunk Love. This is arguably a more accessible film than his previous work and warm and light-hearted in nature matching the period it takes place in and the sunny LA setting. While the plot may meander too much for some and may earn comparisons to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, it is nevertheless refreshing to see Anderson continuing to move between styles with such ease.
If not Paul Thomas Anderson’s finest hour, Licorice Pizza serves as a reminder of his immeasurable talents as a director and writer. The performances from Haim and Hoffman ensure the film is constantly watchable and while the script might not be as strong as previous Anderson efforts the strength of its visuals, soundtrack and performances mostly make up for lapses elsewhere.