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Licorice Pizza Is Not In The Same League As Paul Anderson’s Best
Starring Alana Haim ,Cooper Hoffman .Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, and Benny Safdie
Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Rating: ** ½
American auteur Paul Thomas Anderson has made masterpieces like There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights.
This is not one of them. As a matter of fact Licorice Pizza(which I confess I didn’t know the meaning of and had to look it up to know it’s a slang for vinyl records, though I still don’t know the relations between records and pizzas) is nowhere near Anderson’s best. In Boogie Nights he had imagined the early years of the porn bom with such visual vigour that it never felt forced.
Here it’s all about atmosphere, baby. So lay it on thick!It’s San Fernando Valley in 1976 and Anderson is all revved up about the hyper-activity everywhere. He whips up a storm in a teacup,and wants to be blown away.The crises are hardly worth a second glance, some social, others political , none in the league of any great revelation let alone any sign of a revolution.
I have lost count of the number of retro-American films where the girl (preferably chewing gum, though not this time) is bored of all the attention the boy insists on showering on her. During those days it was not called stalking; it was courtship. Hence Gary(debutant Cooper Hoffman, son of the late and borderline-great Philip Seymour Hoffman who did great work with Anderson in Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love and The Master) follows the pretty Alana(Alana Haim) around like Mary’s little lamb. He stares at her open-mouthed even when she warns him not to act creepy(I am not too sure staring at women was considered ‘creepy’ in the 1970s).
Soon she succumbs to Gary’s dubious charms although she is 10 years his senior. They are thrown into the middle of what looks like a contrived conundrum, selling waterbeds to sleepless Americans.One after other a crisis shows up in the script forcing the narrative into tight corners where Gary and Alana squeeze in as best as they can, hair duly tied into a puzzle.
Regrettably, writer-director Anderson has little patience with letting the characters breathe. The two young protagonists are shown sliding into the tragic-comic zone with nary a space for a sigh.
A full redundant episode features a real-life temperamental producer Jon Peters played by Bradley Cooper only because Cooper wants to finger a freaky part. So Peters harasses and bullies our two protagonists who take revenge in unexpected ways and then when petrol runs out(the fuel crisis forms a political undercurrent in the feverish goings-on) they roll their truck down a sloping winding road in reverse gear.
Before I could settle down to savouring the eccentric humour , Alana is a volunteer in a young dynamic politician’s election campaign . The politician Joel Wachs(Benny Safdie) is a closeted homosexual whose lover is a sad man.Alan gives him TLC to the sad gay man and runs iron out her differences with Gary…and…and… that’s it!
At the end I was left wondering what I had just seen! A coming of age film with two newcomers trying to dazzle and succeeding to just a fraction of what they hoped for?The film is fashionably unfocussed, littered with a languorous light that brightens up some of the less whimsical episodes. But most of this is just idol worship. Like Boogie Nights without the penises or There Will Be Blood without the oil.