Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Licorice Pizza – 1970s escapism and a pair of debuts in Paul Thomas Anderson’s delightful coming of age movie (Queen’s Film Theatre, 35mm and digital screenings)

Gary is a teenager with more confidence than experience, an opportunist in business and flirtation, hopeful for success in both but lacking any track record in either. This pimply student’s peculiar charm falls upon Alana, a yearbook photographer’s assistant, ten years older and the youngest of three twenty-something sisters still living at home.

Licorice Pizza is an unexpectedly delightful and catastrophe-ridden tale of will they, won’t they, complete with 1973 fashion and sensibilities.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the gist of the film, just without the jokes, the awkward car crash moments where Gary (played by Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour, in his first feature) reminds all around that he’s still a child, and the repeated demonstrations of how nearly every man in the film disrespects Alana (played by Alana Haim, also in her first feature) and takes advantage of her disposition. The trailer also references quite a number of scenes that didn’t make it to the final cut.

At one level you can watch Licorice Pizza and try to figure out what’s going on inside Alana’s head. What makes a single adult say yes to meeting up with 15-year-old Gary that first time? What insecurities are at play? In what way does her young friend offer an appropriate safety blanket in times of trouble? Juggling these uncertainties and inappropriatenesses is all quite familiar territory for the writer/director of Phantom Thread to explore, albeit with the ingénue muse older this time rather than younger.

Haim is the film’s real lead, playing a mixture of forthright and repressed, with a keen sense of injustice, against Gary’s intense, hustling, goofy, and somewhat naïve nature. They’re a great on-screen combination, but it’s Hain’s frenzied rages together with moments of near silent fury that warmed my cinemagoing heart. Those and the incredible, nail-biting, reversing truck scene.

At another level, the countless cameo appearances, improvised scenes, and outrageously overblown characterisations keep you guessing which recognisable starts Paul Thomas Anderson will next squeeze into his story.

Gary and Alana are both oddballs, but by no means the strangest folk in this version of Anderson’s beloved San Fernando Valley. Alana’s real-life parents and bandmate sisters double as her on-screen family. Many of the other characters are based on real people or real situations (including the Shabbat dinner incident and the repeated toe-curlingly racist Japanese restaurant scenes).

Licorice Pizza is being shown at the Queen’s Film Theatre until at least Thursday 13 January, and from Sunday to Thursday each week there’s an old-fashioned 35mm screening complete with end of reel cues up in the top right corner for retro hipsters who value celluloid over digital!

It’s a film about two young people finding an escape in each other. And running. Definitely a film that is secretly about endurance running and the endorphins that must be released when you sprint away wearing inappropriate garb and footwear.

Given the cloudy haze of Omicron that surrounds life in early 2022, sitting in a cinema and watching the grainy print is an act of escapism. Just make sure you turn up really early so you don’t get caught standing outside in a ticket/Covid passport-checking queue for 25 minutes and miss the first few minutes of the film.

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