A golden, shimmering vision of the 1970’s San Fernando Valley, told through the perspective of a rather amorphous relationship between business partners Alana Kane and Gary Valentine.
THE GOOD STUFF
ALANA HAIM– There’s a good chance that if you’ve read any reviews for this film, you’ve come across what is a tidal wave of praise for the performance of pop-rock musician Alana Haim, and rightfully so. To put it very simply… she carries this entire film. Full stop. Her comedic timing is beyond reproach. She has charisma to spare (as most rock stars tend to have) and has a screen presence that would suggest that she’s been doing this for a long time.
Through the interviews, I’ve seen with Haim during the multiple q and a’s that they’ve done for this film, the character she plays (which is named Alana) might be a tad more mean-spirited when it comes to her social interactions. But otherwise, the character seems to be on the same wavelength as Haim herself is personality-wise. But hey, a knockout performance is a knockout performance regardless of the fact.
THE SECOND ACT- The second act of this movie is what happens when this relationship (if you want to call it that, at that point) between Kane and Valentine stops being cutesy and snarky, feelings start getting involved, and their relationship has to survive some serious obstacles. Those obstacles come in the form of a very sleazy movie producer played by Sean Penn, and what I can only assume is a hyped-up and absolutely psychotic version of American film producer John Peters, played by Bradley Cooper.
The Sean Penn/Tom Waits section of this movie does what great Paul Thomas Anderson films do and builds up a lot of tension in very, very, subtle ways. Now, the payoff to where that tension leads isn’t exactly worthy of the buildup, but the buildup is very engrossing. And the Bradley Cooper section is a lot of fun, given how utterly ridiculous it is. The second act of this film kicks ass and is a testament to how great of a director Anderson actually is, more than anything else in the film.
BRADLEY COOPER- I’ll keep this short, and sweet. To this day, when people ask me what my favorite performance of Bradley Cooper is, I always say it’s THE HANGOVER. Why? BECAUSE HE’S SO MUCH FUNNIER THAN WE EVER GIVE HIM CREDIT FOR.
Remember when Tom Cruise was in TROPIC THUNDER, and we asked ourselves why the F*** doesn’t he do more comedies? Welp, in the case of Bradley Cooper….
THE BAD STUFF
P A C I N G- With the exception of THE MASTER and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, the one thing about Paul Thomas Anderson films is that you could cut at least 30 minutes from EACH of them. Sometimes, you can cut out a lot more, and in LICORICE PIZZA, you could probably cut a solid HOUR out. I understand that in these seemingly meaningless moments, you get a lot of the idiosyncrasies of a filmmaker. And that’s important. I understand it.
But, if the film itself isn’t greatness, establishing these idiosyncrasies become EXTREMELY tedious. And I believe that there are multiple moments in the first and third acts of this film that simply did not need to be there and are border-lining on arthouse pretentiousness.
THE UGLY STUFF
GARY VALENTINE- Gary Valentine is the blandest and uninteresting character that Paul Thomas Anderson has ever written BY F****** MILES. This is not the fault of Cooper Hoffman. This is his film debut, and he’s just…okay performance-wise. You can’t help but notice just how thoroughly he’s being outshined whenever he shares a scene with Haim because there is so much more depth to HER character. Valentine only gets sporadic moments in the film to even moderately change his personality, and even when that happens, it’s just….meh. Valentine is a flat-out boring character from a writer who NEVER writes boring characters. There’s a first time for everything, I guess…
I guess I’ll leave any criticism to Hoffman at bay. Again, this is his film debut, he is the son of a timeless legend, and he has to have felt immense pressure working for this director, specifically given the history that Anderson had with his father. I’ll be nice….but F*** this character.
LICORICE PIZZA is a flat-out average movie on all fronts. It’s not great, it’s not trash. This film, as well as something like ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, gets a lot of attention that it may not deserve from film critics because they are movies about show business SET in Los Angeles, from directors BORN in Los Angeles, who are flat-out deities to these Los Angeles film snobs out here.
It’s not to say that Paul Thomas Anderson hasn’t made some flat out American classics in the past 15 years, but except for BOOGIE NIGHTS, this ’70s trilogy of his (along with INHERENT VICE) that I guess has now concluded with this film, is the very definition of average.
LICORICE PIZZA is in select theatres now. It opens wide on Christmas Day.