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Film Review: Licorice Pizza (2021)

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

Kelaru & Fulton rating: ★★★★

Available on: Prime Video | Runtime: 2hrs 13mins

 

Coming-of-age stories are often seen through rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, but writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson grounds his latest film Licorice Pizza in the gritty, awkward and ultimately endearing realities of young love and growth. Set in 1970's San Fernando Valley, we follow aimless teenager Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) as he meets and pursues the mysterious and uncompromising Alana Kane (Alana Haim) through a series of misadventures on the road to adulthood.

And much like Gary, this is a meandering yet focused story that knows its destination but is in no rush to get there. Anderson luxuriates in this era and milieu, with an authenticity that clearly comes from personal experience and memories. Yet he keeps the pace lively with his sharp dialogue, situational humour and fully fleshed-out characters.


The film bursts at the seams with nostalgic imagery and pop culture moments that ground it in the 70s, featuring clever cameos from Hollywood legends playing twisted versions of themselves. But the heart of Licorice Pizza lies in Gary and Alana's relationship, portrayed with refreshing honesty by the talented newcomers Hoffman and Haim. Their electric chemistry powers the narrative forward through all the wacky detours.

Ultimately this is a film about life happening in-between the big moments. How we grow a little through every awkward interaction and bad decision on the path to wisdom. It's about treasuring the brief connections we make with people even if they are temporary. Licorice Pizza manages to be both sweeping and personal at the same time, reminding us that the most important stories we have to tell are our own.


Anderson has crafted an instant classic - a compassionate, funny and intimate snapshot of youth that revels in the simple pleasures of spending time with charismatic characters. Much like Gary and Alana, you won't want this infectious ride through the San Fernando Valley to end.



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