Cooper Hooffman and Alnaa Haim in the movie “Licorice Pizza.” Photo/ Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc./TNS
By: Joshua D. Baker
“I’m not going to forget you. Just like you’re not going to forget me,” Cooper Hoffman said in the movie.
These are words spoken by Licorice Pizza’s leading man Cooper Hoffman to leading woman Alana Haim and I think they describe my experience with the film to tee.
The movie is about a Alana Kane and Gary Valentine falling in love with one another at San Fernando Valley.
I watched Licorice Pizza twice this week. Twice in theaters because Licorice Pizza hasn’t seen a digital release yet despite opening on Christmas day last year.
I saw it twice because I wasn’t sure what it was in the two-plus-hour plot was trying to say. To be honest, I’m still not sure what I was supposed to take away from my time with Licorice Pizza.
On the surface, Licorice Pizza is a coming-of-age romance set in 1973 California. It tells the story of Gary Valentine, who is Hoffman and Alana Kane, who is Haim, as they spin a ‘will-they-won’t-they’ love story through a plethora of 70’s set-pieces.
In this way, the story is told almost as a series of vignettes that tenuously create a thru-line to the next situation.
While the story can feel loose and wandering at times because of this, Anderson makes sure to keep the focus of every shenanigan on Hoffman and Haim’s faces.
Worse directors would fill these scenes with characters telling each other how they feel, but that never happens here.
I never felt like I didn’t know what a character was feeling, and the editing made sure to linger on those faces of jealously, lust, and frustration just one beat too long, which perfectly create awkward silences.
Anderson also creates moments of prolonged bliss at times too, giving us scenes of characters smiling and laughing just over that beat we’re used to.
One scene in particular shows a hug and lets the camera just sit there for such a long time that it feels like the movie is paying back the tab for all the awkward moments that came before.
The film is shot on 35mm Kodak film with a period correct lens and it shows. The movie doesn’t look like anything else in theaters, and it really sells the 70’s aesthetic.
The camera work is beautiful and the soundtrack; arranged by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, a regular on Anderson’s films, is full of poignant period-appropriate tracks that fit perfectly.
Licorice Pizza also nails what teenagers actually look like, there’s no Riverdale highschoolers running amok on screen. Even the “hot” highschooler still looks believably seventeen.
The films been nominated for three Academy Awards, including best picture. And on a technical level, Licorice Pizza is just as entitled to win as any movie nominated alongside it. But it won’t be my pick.
Minor Plot Details…
Full disclosure, I love Paul Thomas Anderson’s films. He is, in my opinion, one of the best working American Directors. But Licorice Pizza’s story has sat wrong with me, and I feel like there’s a much-needed dialogue not really happening about the story.
In the film Valentine is a 15-year-old child actor who falls for Kane, a 25-year-old photography assistant.
As the film progresses, I kept expecting some time-jump to happen that never occurs, or at least something to even out the age difference.
The crux of the story seems to root for this relationship, fraught with toxic tendencies, to succeed. This is a plot that would rightfully be lambasted as creepy and wrong if the genders were reversed.
Too many men are exploited each and every day, only to be laughed at when they come forward. I feel the need to say it, but it doesn’t matter if the boy pursued a 25-year-old, the fact that this story manages to romanticize this dynamic is wrong.
Movies don’t have to show beautiful and perfect relationships. However, they also shouldn’t glorify and romanticize these dynamics.