Licorice Pizza focuses on the story of Alana Kaine (Alana Haim) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) growing up in the 1970’s. Gary is an entrepreneurial 15 year old, determined to be a successful actor and businessman. Gary develops a crush on 25 year old Alana after they meet at his high school picture day. The two slowly develop a friendship, and we witness their complicated relationship progress through a series of misadventures. Over the course of the film the pair create several money-making plots, and interact with a host of wild characters played by a variety of celebrity cameos. Indeed, one of the more entertaining aspects of the film are these strange characters that the pair interact with - some dangerous, some downright bizarre. The central tension of the film is this will-they-won’t-they as the pair argue and come together repeatedly. There is not a single narrative through-line; the film features a more episodic structure. All of these elements come together to give the film a sense of adventure, along the lines of a bildungsroman.
Paul Thomas Anderson is a well known name in the world of film. His films (There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread, Magnolia, among others) have won countless awards over the years, and he has directed some of my personal favorite films. Across his filmography, Anderson has consistently created films which have deep symbolic meanings and which raise difficult questions. Licorice Pizza feels like a much lighter film by comparison. It does not feature the same provocative symbolism of his previous films, and it does not drive its audiences towards any weighty truths. Instead, the film offers a much lighter approach, favoring a general nostalgic aesthetic and emphasis on themes surrounding the importance of family, friendships, and romance. These themes are explored through Gary, following his journey in a coming of age story. The film never gets too heavy or highbrow, instead taking an approach which favors creating a mood over establishing any deep concepts. Licorice Pizza feels like PTA’s least intellectually stimulating film, yet it is also one of, if not his most, charming film. For these reasons, it seems unlikely that Licorice Pizza will have the same staying power that the rest of PTA’s filmography has enjoyed.