In the opening scene of Licorice Pizza it’s school picture day in the 1970s and we watch a fifteen year old boy pursue the photographer’s assistant, a twenty-five year old woman. The boy, Gary (Cooper Hoffman) is persistent, confident and packs a punch of charisma with his baby fat. And the woman, Alana (Alana Haim) is pretty but something about her lacks that confidence and charisma. Perhaps she’s charmed or surprised a boy like this would take interest in her. Anyway, this begins their whirlwind relationship as they jump from one enterprise and misadventure to the next around the San Fernando Valley.
The two leads, Hoffman and Haim, make their feature debut in this film and lead with excellence. Hoffman is the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. We can see the resemblance in his face and he can captivate and hold an audience like his father. This film shows he has a strong presence and great comedic timing. I think time will tell if he has his father’s range as well. Haim is the youngest member of her family’s indie rock band Paul Thomas Anderson has made music videos with. Here Haim shows she’s ready to be a movie star and even holds her own in scenes with Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper (who steals the show for a while).
In fact, the scenes featuring Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters are some of the best and funniest in the film. He is so intense, getting in Cooper’s face and threatening him in the most absurd ways all while wearing that iconic white jumpsuit. And then, as the gang is making their getway, they find him out of gas on the side of the road, so he hops in the truck, right between Gary and Alana, hitting on Alana the whole time. His moment at the gas station is the best, just climbing up and taking the gas nozzle out of a man’s hand.
Licorice Pizza is nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Paul Thomas Anderson is nominated for his directing and original screenplay. This is his third directing nomination, his fifth for a screenplay.
While we expect this film to be all about Gary, it’s Alana who springs forward in the end. We watch her as she rides Gary’s coat tails for a while, trying to match his energy and figure out where she fits in with his group of friends. It’s awkward to see Alana as Gary’s bikini clad model as he tries to sell waterbeds. Her attempt at becoming an actress goes no further than her being arm candy to Jack Holden (Sean Penn in a hilarious William Holden-type character). And her moment of political activism is distilled down to being a beard for a closeted candidate. And she’s a pro driving that truck up and down those suburban hills. In many ways, Alana’s story arc is what it’s like to be a young, pretty woman in the world, especially in LA.
“There’s no gas-o in the goddamn car-o, Steve-o!”