Linda Cook review: ‘Licorice Pizza’ serves up a luscious 1970s coming-of-age story

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This movie is full of the tasty stuff of life, a coming-of-age story that’s timeless, even though it’s set squarely in the 1970s.

Always, I have been a fan of the works of Paul Thomas Anderson – possibly you’re familiar with his “Boogie Nights,” the magnificent “Magnolia” or “Phantom Thread.”

To call it a romantic comedy, although it contains elements of both romance and humor, would do the film a disservice.

The stars in this ensemble shine so brightly. Gary (Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Alana (Alana Haim, one of the members of the pop rock band Haim) meet cute in the San Fernando Valley.

He’s in his teens, still in high school, but takes himself as seriously as any older entrepreneur would. She’s grown up, sort of. At the age of 20, she is the assistant to a photographer who takes yearbook pictures.

Gary is an actor, a hustler who always seeks his next opportunity. He and Alana are instantly interested in each other, although she protests and asks him not to be so creepy.

Gary asks Alana out, and she does show up. They continue to have challenging, awkward conversations. Maybe I should say “communications” instead, because one scene involves a phone call in which neither says a single word but communicates perfectly with the other.

Is it plot-less? Darned near, which makes the character development all the more engaging. Although the young people are the leads, the rest of the troupe is wonderful, too – there’s Sean Penn as an older actor on the prowl, and Bradley Cooper as producer/madman Jon Peters.

Water beds, a national gas shortage and pinball machines are all part of the landscape of the lives of Alana and Gary. The Jonny Greenwood score and delicious tunes by the likes of Paul McCartney and Donovan provide the perfect musical backdrop.

The title, incidentally, seems to have originated with an Abbott and Costello routine in which they try to sell vinyl records. One of them says “We could sprinkle cornstarch on the bottom and sell them as licorice pizzas.”

Licorice Pizza was the name of a chain of record stores in Southern California from 1969-1986.

And now it’s a movie that should suit the taste of anyone who sees it.

4 stars

Running time: Two hours and 13 minutes.

Rated: R for foul language, sexual situations and drug abuse.

At Cinemark, Davenport.

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