Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman
It pains me to say this, but Paul Thomas Anderson has completely lost it, whatever “it” is. The spectacular director of so many iconic films has run up against a creative wall, and his current ideas are simply not interesting, not entertaining, and not well adapted into movies. Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice, Phantom Thread, and now Licorice Pizza; it couldn’t be more simple than a meteoric rise at the beginning and a precipitous fall at the end, with some of the best films we’ve ever seen in the middle. Unfortunately, his last three projects have been subpar, with a waning interest level from audiences and a decline in creativity from a director who I used to say was one of my Top 5 favorites; I worry that if things keep on this way I’ll need to find a replacement.
Take us back to LA in the 1970s, when records spun the soundtrack of the times and a generation attempted to grow up in a country that was attempting to find itself. Gary, a 15-year-old actor and entrepreneur, falls instantaneously for Alana, a 25-year-old girl taking his school picture. He’s a schmoozer, she’s a lost soul, they both find each other, but it’s not meant to work out; the age difference, at this point in both their lives, is just too far a gap. But they become fast friends, Gary leading Alana on scheme after scheme, many of which put them at odds, in trouble, or even pull them wildly apart. But it’s a wild time in general, two young people need a hand to hold to get through it, and there’s no telling what might be around the next corner, so you’d better hold on tight.
First of all, this is a time capsule film, so if you grew up in the 70s, if your name is Gary or Jerry or Greg or Jeff, this is the transportative film experience for you. You’ll love the music, you’ll feel at home, especially if you grew up on the west coast, and you’ll understand the balancing act that these kids were taking part in, as they tried to salvage their sanities when the world was going to shit. BUT, if that’s not you, I think you’ll find Licorice Pizza extremely lacking. Apart from some cool cameos, which were unnesseccary but at least interesting, the film was a big dull dud. Nothing happens because everything happens, there’s too much going on and nothing of importance; it was like Waiting for Godot but weirder and less poignant. And the biggest problem, biggest by far, at least for those who notice such things, is that the acting is abysmal. And that’s not just me saying that, the two main leads aren’t actors; Haim is a pop musician and Hoffman is the son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, neither have ever acted before. So, Paul Thomas Anderson creates a movie about his own growing up starring two non-actors, relies solely on nostalgia and a killer soundtrack, makes the movie far too long, and it gets nominated for Best Picture? No way, this is the weakest work he’s ever given us, by far, and it’s upsetting that not everything understands this.
My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆