Licorice Pizza

Licorice Pizza ★★★★★

Burying the lede warning: Out of nowhere, Alana Haim came to our San Francisco mall movie theater for a post-film Q & A! She’s funny as hell, but more on that later.  (review’s got a bunch of words, but no spoilers)

This was an exhausting week, but halfway through, on Wednesday, my Facebook/Meta overlords showed me an ad for Licorice Pizza sneak previews at two San Francisco movie theaters. I was tired, but somehow my friend and I would summon the energy to sit in seats for two hours and thirteen minutes and watch a film by our favorite contemporary director. Brave choice, I know.

The hip theater was totally sold out, and the less hip one had eight open seats in the first row, and two off to the side of the second row. I swooped up two for the second row, cause two weeks early is two weeks early-neck pain and awkward viewing angle be damned! The movie was just great. From the first scene, Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) was bursting with irrational confidence, and Alana Kane (Alana Haim) was just… so cool. She was too old for Gary, but she realized that he was 83% less boring than anyone else in the immediate vicinity. He’s a Renaissance Man! An entrepreneur! And he’s seriously got the hots for Alana!

As advanced for his age as Gary is, he’s also an emotionally tempestuous kid, and his interactions with Alana are at times off-putting. There’s a moment about forty-five minutes in when it seems like the film might be slowing down, as we get a tiny bit bogged down in petty jealousies bouncing back and forth. But then Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper come in ABSOLUTELY on fire. I have a lot of issues with Sean Penn as an actor, but he’s really solid here. Bradley Cooper, on the other hand, is just spontaneously combusting all over the place. He sets into motion the most propulsive, bizarrely suspenseful section of the film playing Barbara Streisand’s coked out, maniacally erratic, funny as hell boyfriend. He’s never been better. PTA’s use of music is, of course, spectacular. I actually thought “Life on Mars”-a song I adore, was gonna be corny in the film. But it seemed potentially corny in the trailer because it was set to the “highlights” of the film. Its use in the actual film, however, is amazing. My favorite musical moment, though, is when Paul McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It” comes in. It’s just perfect.

Alana Haim Q & A: Before the beginning of the film, the manager of the mall movie theater told us there would be a special guest after the screening. WHATWHATWHAT?!?! I didn’t allow myself to get my hopes up, so I assumed it would be a key grip or the craft services crew. But it was Alana Haim! She was amazing. She was funny and warm, and she told fascinating stories about getting the role, working with PTA, and how Cooper Hoffman was Gary the first time she and her sisters met him in NYC. PTA’s wife Maya Rudolph was great in the film. The entire Haim nuclear family was in the film. It all works so well. The MC took about ten questions (I got one in). They would have done more, but Haim just wanted to share awesome stories with the audience. She was humble, endearing, and clearly talented beyond making bass-face, playing Coachella, and writing a great song with Jessie Ware.

Paul Thomas Anderson seems to have come to a point in his career where he can nail razor sharp psychological character studies like Phantom Thread, or nostalgic coming-of-age films like Licorice Pizza. He fosters a creative atmosphere that brings out the best in legendary veteran actors, and makes first-time actors comfortable and willing to be uncomfortable. We’re so lucky to have him.

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