Review by Sean Boelman
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the rare American filmmakers who is both a critical darling and an audience favorite. And his newest film, the coming-of-age comedy Licorice Pizza, is his most accessible movie in years, a hilarious and heartfelt ode to the Los Angeles of the 1970s which benefits from his unique voice.
The film follows a teenage boy who is a former child actor and currently a failed young entrepreneur as he befriends and forms a unique connection with an adult woman. It’s definitely a movie that deals more in vibes than plot, but the atmosphere that Anderson builds is so infectiously fun that the movie is endlessly charming.
Anderson weaves through the different pieces of his story in a way that is somehow both relaxed and full of life. There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, and while there are a few scenes that will stand out to viewers more than others, these scenes are nicely distributed over the entire runtime to keep the audience interested.
Although this definitely isn’t one of Anderson’s more important films in terms of themes, that doesn’t make it any less profound. Anderson offers some poetic observations about youth and growing up. He takes this very common arc and makes it into something refreshing by writing characters that are remarkably empathetic.
A big part of what makes this movie work so well is that the characters are very complex. Even though the two leads both frequently make frustrating decisions, it’s their flaws that makes them so endearing. And the film is also filled to the brim with bit parts based on or inspired by real Hollywood figures from the past.
Cooper Hoffman, the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (a frequent collaborator of Anderson), does an exceptional job in his leading role, bringing a lot of charm to the character. Alana Haim is great opposite him, commanding the screen and sometimes even stealing his thunder. And Bradley Cooper has an extremely memorable cameo resulting in one of the funniest scenes in any movie this year.
Anderson is one of the few filmmakers working today that still has an affinity for shooting on celluloid, and it really pays off in immersing the viewer in the world that he is setting up. It’s a gorgeous, nostalgic-looking film that radiates a visual warmth. And a soundtrack filled with some great songs from the ‘70s rounds it out quite well.
Licorice Pizza is probably Paul Thomas Anderson’s best and most consistent movie since Magnolia. It strikes the right balance between poignancy and hilariousness to make it both meaningful and a crowd-pleaser.
Licorice Pizza hits theaters on November 26.