‘Licorice Pizza’ Is an Achingly Romantic Tale of Young Love in the Shadow of Hollywood squib

MGM

Refuting the adage that you can’t go home again, Paul Thomas Anderson thrillingly revisits the San Fernando Valley of his youth—as well as the high-flying electricity of his 1997 sophomore epic Boogie Nights—with Licorice Pizza, a coming-of-age celebration of figuring out who you are, where you want to be, what direction you want to head, and what riotous, go-for-broke inventiveness will help you achieve your dreams. The most purely optimistic film Anderson has made since 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love, with which it shares an unruly romanticism that’s rocked by bursts of anger, not to mention a shaggy odyssey in the vein of 2014’s Inherent Vice, it’s a nostalgia trip steeped in a ‘70s spirit of reckless abandon and an abiding affection for that moment in time when anything seems possible, and the wide-open road ahead is something toward which one furiously races.

Licorice Pizza (Nov. 26, in theaters) is awash in sights of young men and women running at breakneck speed, none more wildly than 15-year-old high schooler Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, an Anderson favorite) and 25-year-old photographer’s assistant Alana Kane (Alana Haim, of the band Haim). The two initially meet at the former’s class picture day, during which Gary comes on to Alana with a measure of cocky bravado that far exceeds his worldly experience. Gary brags about his career as a child actor, and it’s clear that his professional success is due to his self-assurance rather than the other way around. Alana is also confident and tough-as-nails—she’s introduced cursing at a kid who accidentally walks into her, and spends the rest of the film exuding a profane and imposing personality that’s epitomized by her knowledge of Krav Maga—and she promptly lets Gary know that she’s far too old for him. Nonetheless, she recognizes the pushy kid as a kindred spirit and accepts his invitation for a drink at a nearby restaurant, thereby swiftly cementing their bond.

Anderson was only a kid during the 1970s depicted in Licorice Pizza, and he envisions Encino’s school corridors, ramshackle offices and storefronts, and neighborhood streets and homes with the warm regard of someone conjuring an era through the rose-tinted haze of childhood recollections (the fondness he exhibits for old-school Hollywood, meanwhile, is reminiscent of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). Anderson and co-cinematographer Michael Bauman’s images—be they close-ups of Hoffman’s lightly pimpled face, or a panorama of a crowd taking to a brightly lit golf course at night—have a soft, grainy texture that further enhances the proceedings’ tender atmosphere, as does regular collaborator Jonny Greenwood’s score, which swings and sways in tune with soundtrack cuts from the likes of Sonny and Cher, David Bowie, and The Doors. The film feels like a memory piece, radiating compassion and consideration for individuals frantically trying to chase down whatever next big thing they think will get them what they desire.

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