Review: Licorice Pizza

Score: A-

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Rated: R

Licorice Pizza is the most delightful movie of the year. A masterful director leads two strong new actors through Southern California in 1973. They hatch schemes, wreak havoc, making each other laugh and making each other jealous.

Cooper Hoffman (son of the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman) stars as Gary, a smart-ass teen actor who's never met a person he can't charm. Alana Haim (drummer in the great band Haim) plays Alana, the dazed and confused woman he latches onto. They meet at Picture Day at Gary's school, and they'll find themselves entangled in each other's lives whether they like it or not. (Much has been made of the characters' 10-year age gap. While there may be something to discuss there, ignore anyone who's outright dismissive or irate without engaging with the film.)

There's little plot to speak of in Licorice Pizza. It's more of a series of vignettes, with some stories so richly detailed that they had to be based on real life. (Much of the film is based on the experiences of producer Gary Goetzman and Anderson himself, who grew up in the industry.) But each scene is so vibrant, with actors who look like real people and not movie stars. It ultimately doesn't matter that this is the director's most lackadaisical film.

About the only thing that didn't work and didn't put a big smile on my face are two unfortunate and unnecessary scenes with John Michael Higgins. The veteran character actor has stolen scenes and split my sides in films like Best in Show and Pitch Perfect. But here he plays a racist restaurateur, who speaks to his Japanese wives in an exaggerated accent. The joke, I suppose, is about what a buffoon this guy is. But it's not funny, and several Asian-American critics have rightly taken offense. It adds absolutely nothing to the experience.

But those are brief scenes. Many other actors make much better impressions in similarly limited screen time. Christine Ebersole is absolutely hilarious as a Lucille Ball stand-in, whose backstage tirade makes for one of the funniest scenes in the film. Sean Penn and Tom Waits are dynamite as two old drunks who think nothing of re-staging a motorcycle stunt on a golf course. And of course Bradley Cooper shows up as Jon Peters, the real-life hairdresser, Casanova and future film producer. His performance is absolutely wild, dialed up to 10 from his first appearance. Even when he's not the focus, he's in the background, drawing your eye.

It's occasionally overstuffed, but here's so much to love in Licorice Pizza that even an occasional sour taste can't ruin the whole pie.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.