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Laramie Movie Scope: Licorice Pizza

Nostalgic 1970s romantic comedy

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 30, 2021 – I had to drive a long way, in the snow, to see this limited release movie before the end of the year, but was rewarded by excellent performances by leads Alana Haim (playing Alana Kane) and Cooper Hoffman (playing Gary Valentine). Larger-than-life hilarious supporting performances are provided by stars Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn and others.

This is a romantic comedy about a very odd couple, Alana and Gary. They are attracted to each other, but keep being pulled apart by their many differences, only to seek each other out again, repeating this cycle, over and over, like two ends of a spring.

What makes them different is their age, among other things. Gary is only 15, while Alana is 25. She is Jewish, he is not. Gary, as a successful child actor, has lots of money. Alana works odd jobs to get by. Their relationship is set against the backdrop of California's San Fernando Valley in 1973.

The two meet at school, where Gary is having his high school picture taken and Alana is working as an assistant to the photographer. Gary is immediately attracted to Alana. She resists him at first, but he is persistent, charming, is big for his age, and has money. She is interested enough to join him later on at a local watering hole, where he buys her dinner.

Gary arranges for her to be his chaperone for a publicity event in another city, related to his acting career. Alana, who has acting ambitions of her own, sees Gary's connections as a way to further her own career. Unlike Gary, however, she is interested in politics and world events and wants to make a difference.

Gary is willing to help Alana with her acting career, but is conflicted about his feelings for her when she starts mingling with other actors. He becomes very jealous when she starts dating one of Gary's movie co-stars, Lance Brannigan (played by Skyler Gisondo of “Booksmart”). This causes them to pull apart for a time.

Gary is always ready to engage in new businesses, opening up a waterbed store, and later opening a pinball parlor when pinball machines are legalized in California. Alana is attracted to the business opportunities, but is turned off by the impulsiveness and irresponsibility of Gary and his young friends.

Gary is also a vindictive kid. He won't confront bullies like movie producer Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper of ‘A Star is Born’) face-to-face, but will attack their property behind their back in retaliation for offenses. Such retaliations lead to a harrowing escape from the wrath of Peters in an out-of-gas delivery truck driven backwards, downhill, by Alana. That scary escape is enough for her to quit the waterbed business.

Movie producer Jon Peters is one of a number real life people depicted in the film. Two others are movie star Jack Holden (played by Sean Penn of “Milk”) and politician Joel Wachs (Benny Safdie). Holden is a thinly-disguised version of William Holden, who won an Academy Award for “Stalag 17.” Another real life character, period hotel and restaurant owner Jerry Frick, is played by John Michael Higgins (“Best in Show”) in a very Fred Willard-like performance.

In one memorable scene, Alana, hoping for a movie role, climbs on the back of a motorcycle behind a drunken Holden for a foolhardy jump over a bonfire. In another scene, Alana discovers her political idol, Wachs (a member of the Los Angeles city council for 30 years) is not who he pretends to be.

The on-again, off-again romance of Alana and Gary seems fairly lifelike. The story is based on the recollections of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Magnolia”) and his film producer and former child actor friend, Gary Goetzman. The main character, Gary, is based on Goetzman's life (he actually did deliver a waterbed to Peters). Anderson, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley has used it as a setting for some of his previous films.

So where did the title Licorice Pizza come from? The title evokes childhood memories for Anderson, as well as being the name of a long gone chain of Los Angeles record stores, even though no pizza or record stores are mentioned in the movie.

This is also a movie about the movie industry, and hopelessly entangled in it. Anderson has made nine music videos featuring Alana Haim's band, Haim, and he also has a strong connection to his other star, Cooper Hoffman, the son of the late movie star Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who appeared in several of Anderson's movies. These connections should help this movie's chances for awards.

This is a very entertaining film with some fine performances, some unexpected story lines, and some real poignancy to go with its humor and romance. It is a good distraction from the increasingly desperate times we live in. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2021 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]