Movie review: Licorice Pizza

Paul Thomas Anderson

licorice pizzaDuring my wife’s vacation week, we went to the Spectrum 8 Theatre to see the movie Licorice Pizza. The description: “The story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973.”

In the first half of the movie, I suppose it would have helped if I’d grown up in SoCal. I was apparently not catching a lot of the cultural references, even though I was the right age. The character of Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) is based on Gary Goetzman, a friend of the movie’s director/writer/co-producer Paul Thomas Anderson. Goetzman is the co-founder of Tom Hanks’s production company, Playtone.

However, I DID recognize the reference to the movie Your, Mine, and Ours with Lucille Ball, which I saw when it came out in 1968; it featured Goetzman. Here it’s called Under One Roof. In this film, child actor Gary needs a chaperone. So he gets Alana (Alana Haim from the band of sister Haim) to leave her dead-end job to chaperone him cross-country.

The whole Gary-Alana relationship is both endearing and somewhat creepy. Or as one critic noted, a device “for men who fantasized about dating their babysitters when they were teens.” The story meanders to various vignettes including selling waterbeds, which Goetzman actually did.

Alana’s family was played by Alana Haim’s real family. Her father Moti in particular was very authentic in a small role.

The name stars

The movie actually developed more plot threads when Sean Penn shows as the daredevil Jack Holden. Also, Bradley Cooper plays the schmuck moviemaker/boyfriend of Barbra Streisand, Jon Peters. The latter section featured some of the best driving backward I’ve seen on film.

Eventually, Alana ends up volunteering for the campaign of idealistic local candidate Joel Wachs (Benny Safdie). Wachs was actually an actual candidate back in the day. And the plot twist, while a bit obvious, was touching.

In the end, it seems that the couple’s fate is worth its circuitous route. But though I wanted to, I just didn’t love this film. As I suggested, if you grew up in Los Angeles ara and were born in the 1950s, you might like it more than I do. Most of the music, in fact, I really did enjoy. And the leads are pretty good in their first major roles.

In some circles, the Japanese wife scenes have been characterized as having racist content. It seemed to me that Jerry Frick (John Michael Higgins), the “real-life owner of Mikado, the first Japanese restaurant in the San Fernando Valley,” was the real butt of the joke. On the other hand, it wasn’t funny.

The film never explains why it is called Licorice Pizza. I later discovered that “Though you won’t find either of those foods in the film, it’s an homage… the Southern California record-store chain that existed in the ’70s and ’80s.”

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