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Licorice Pizza

Hilarious, touching, and brilliant, Paul Thomas Anderson’s LICORICE PIZZA is a dish sure to leave some cold. Please sign me up for another slice.

PTA’s follow up to his perfect period piece “Phantom Thread”, the new film takes place in the San Fernando Valley in 1973. I remember ’73 and he nails it as a quirky canvas on which he spins an unexpectedly personal story informed by his own childhood.

Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is a young actor and a type-A entrepreneur, loaded with confidence. When he bumps into Alana (Alana Haim) during school photo day (she’s one of the photographer’s assistants) he begins to relentlessly pursue a date with her.

Alana: Are you asking me out?

Gary Valentine: Yes.

Alana: I'm not going on a date with you, you're twelve.

Gary Valentine: You're funny. I'm fifteen.

The film focuses on their relationship in what would first appear to be a small story, but as we meet more and more people surrounding the couple, everything feels just as consequential as young love does to Gary.

Gary talks Alana into coming to an event celebrating his latest film starring a Lucy-like actress Lucy Doolittle, hilariously played by Christine Ebersole. Gary’s basically a big, very endearing kid with a lot of drive. And Ebersole’s Lucy is a force of nature.

Alana is pulled into Gary’s enthusiasm when he starts selling waterbeds, a brand new and exploding fad that year. When they deliver one to Barbara Streisand and Jon Peters home, Peters comes off as a coke-crazed, sexually voracious maniac perfectly embodied by Bradley Cooper. The entire sequence is hilarious, unhinged, and suspenseful as hell. That really is Alana doing all the driving!

None of the actors in the film knew Bradley Cooper was in it until he barged into the first scene in all his big beard/white jump suited 70’s glory.

Gary holds court in the Tail ‘O The Cock, a neighborhood bar in Studio City loaded with characters spanning every level of fame.

Sean Penn is a blast as William Holden doppelganger Jack Holden. Flirting outrageously with Alana and spinning wild, self-important stories with his equally self-possessed friend, Director Rex Blau (Tom Waits), Penn delivers a fantastic cameo in a film loaded with them.

When you have John C.Reilly popping up as Herman Munster in one corner and Maya Rudolph in another, you know actors are clamoring to appear in PTA’s story.

Every minute of LICORICE PIZZA feels authentic.

This is Cooper’s film debut and first acting gig. The son of Philip Seymour Hoffman, he’s a natural. He creates a Gary that you cheer for in business and love. This is singer Alana Haim’s first film as well. She earned a BAFTA nomination and it’s deserved. Neither she or Cooper are cookie cutter leads. They look different, they feel authentic.

In Anderson’s hands, there isn’t a false frame in the movie.

This is PTA’s most personal film. In real life, Donna Haim is the mother of the Grammy nominated Haim sisters and was Anderson’s art teacher at school. The film is based partly on his crush on her when he was her student.

Inspired by films like “American Graffiti” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, LICORICE PIZZA captures an era. It also perfectly portrays that angst-ridden, “nothing will ever feel like this again” heartache of first love.

Anything but mainstream, LICORICE PIZZA is terrific, smart, and adult entertainment that captures a time in life that’s somehow mysterious and universal at the same time.

Loved it. LICORICE PIZZA gets an A.

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