Quick-Thoughts: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza

Wait, why did Gary keep calling that lady “Mom” when her name is “The Waitress”?

For every awfully painful to watch Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) or every aggressively despairing There Will Be Blood (2007) that can be found in the cinematic discussion of platonic yet competitive relationships, maybe we need something as sweet and sincere as Licorice Pizza to follow them up and even out the playing field. Paul Thomas Anderson has made once again another episodic rhythm of supposedly random moments and claimed it as a narrative, with each affair on screen however silently insinuating and revealing a wholesome or tragic reality in PTA’s classic two-on-two dynamical exploration. In the crossfire though of his persistence to unkink conflicting objectives and hypocrisies that love bounds in these two characters — a 15-year-old Gary Valentine and a decade older Alana Kane — is his down-to-earth depiction of Los Angeles in the 70s, and how the sociality of that time frame designs their path. 

PTA has stated in interviews that the first scene of Licorice Pizza, where young Gary professes his sudden adoration to a staff-working Alana on his high school picture day, is something he witnessed in his own life that sparked the story we have here today. Hence, one could only assume much of his venture hinders on real life perspective: celebrities are degenerated as pretentious yet fascinating hags. Industry is as sexist as ever and people wistfully try to become immune to it. Pinball machines are illegal but boy will they make a bank and a headline in town once they come back again. It seems as if he has painted his hometown with such admirably mixed agenda, where humor clashes with the polarization seen in his dissection of historical and now comparably modern human dilemma, and it’s able to cleverly let the audience both bask in its comfort of emotional adventure while also being able to question them of who we are in these sort of ruthless romantic scenarios at the same time.

In other words, this was a blast, and as mature as you would anticipate from one of the all-time great filmmakers. 

However, I’m going to address my rating before anyone asks, because coming from an overtly highfalutin fanboy of PTA’s work — i.e. me — this is the lowest score I’ve given him before, which should although remind you of how consistently marvelous of a director he’s been for the past twenty-five years. Look, I don’t mind seeing PTA’s work fall into conventions, and it certainly does in Licorice Pizza more than it ever has. I also certainly don’t mind him writing happy endings; I mean, hell, half of his movies arguably have them. It’s just that, obviously, those conventions didn’t impress or beguile me despite still liking them as much as his more innovative material did and continues to do. Maybe I didn’t jive with this movie on first viewing to the level of thinking it’s a masterpiece because where there is innovation in this tale is rather found in what it adds to the period piece schoolkid coming of age genre, but what it does to that genre is simply use pre-established PTA formulas to thwart stereotypes, and genre has always been a deception to me in the filmmaker’s career anyhow. I think a substantial amount of this film is just what I’ve already come to expect from that innocent yet truthful side of PTA, which somewhat despecialized the experience for me. Punch-Drunk Love (2002) loyalty for life!

Nonetheless, it’s solid, and you should check it out ASAP!

Verdict: B

2021 Ranked, PTA Ranked

“Licorice Pizza” will be wide-released in cinemas December 25th.

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