Paul Thomas Anderson releases his coming-of-age story “Licorice Pizza”


Courtesy of WikiCommons

Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” released in theaters nationwide Saturday, Dec. 25.

On Saturday, Dec. 25, director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA) released his coming-of-age film “Licorice Pizza” nationwide.

The period piece follows 25-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and her friendship with 15-year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman), a young entrepreneur who smooth talks his way into Alana’s life, creating a unique relationship between the two. As the film progresses, we watch as Alana and Gary run around PTA’s hometown San Fernando Valley starting several businesses, meeting unusual individuals, and exploring the connection they share. The entire film, set in the 1970s, provides an interesting perspective on a peculiar situation between two people who are seemingly in two very different points of their lives.

“Licorice Pizza” stars Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman as Alana Kane and Gary Valentine, respectively. (Courtesy of WikiCommons)

PTA was struck by inspiration one day after witnessing an awkward encounter between two teenagers at a local middle school in the San Fernando Valley, thus providing the setting for the film.

The boy, he explained, was an energetic teenager who was flirting with the girl taking pictures, determined to make some sort of breakthrough. This, as Anderson describes in an interview, was the perfect premise for a film. He started to formulate a story in his head, an interesting scenario in which this interaction leads to something more. 

“I think my favorite part about [Anderson] movies, and his writing in particular is the fact that the dialogue is so natural, it doesn’t seem forced in any way,” said Nikita Patel, junior. 

“Licorice Pizza,” PTA fans agree, has a very Anderson-esque look and feel; from the accurate portrayal of California in the ’70s to the very specific song choices to match a particular scene. 

The soundtrack is one of the most essential elements of the film. For example, PTA’s choice of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” is a featured song in the film. While at first glance this choice may not seem too unusual to viewers since the song was released in the 1970s, I think Anderson’s choice was more strategic. While watching the film, I noticed the way in which the song complements the scenes playing. Lyrics like: “It’s a God-awful small affair” and “but her friend is nowhere to be seen” pair up with moments from the film that show Alana and Gary’s friendship, or their “small affair” as some viewers would label it. 

“The ‘Let me Roll it’ scene was perfect,” said Sophie Kempenaar, senior and a member of Film Club. “It’s the scene with the waterbed, and the lyrics fit so well with the moment. There’s so much conflict. There’s this complex, nuanced emotion that this scene portrays, that these characters are feeling, and it’s almost as if they’re on another planet.” 

The idea of a 25-year-old and a 15-year-old sharing any sort of emotional connection is odd. Anderson takes notice of this fact in the film; Alana is aware of the “weirdness” surrounding her desire to hang out with Gary and his high school friends. The portrayal of relationships in movies has become a taboo subject, and the standards for which we depict these relationships on screen have changed greatly in the last few decades, so it’s important to remember the era that Anderson is trying to portray. Not only this but as an audience, we are obligated to think about Alana and Gary’s controversial dynamic in a broader view; how their friendship plays into the grand scheme of things. The main focus should not merely be about their ages, and the obvious problems associated with it, but also how they both benefit from having one another’s presence in their life. 

A prominent theme throughout the film, explored by Kane’s character, is the idea of adulthood and the expectations which are associated with it. Kane grapples with the reality of what it truly means to be an adult, the “shoulds” of her life: the people she should be hanging out with, the career that she should have, the passions in which she should be exploring. Alana appreciates Gary’s go-getter personality, his ambitious lifestyle, and his ability to “act like an adult,” while still being a teenager.

It’s a terrific dilemma. It reminds me of what you would see in the old screwball comedies – this insurmountable thing between two characters that keeps them apart,” said PTA. “Once you know that’s the playing field, you can have fun with it because they’re never going to be together. It’s a line you do not cross. It’s inappropriate. It’s wrong. That’s not happening.”

Overall, “Licorice Pizza” serves as one of my favorite films of 2021. The unique way in which PTA can captivate an entire audience with just a few simple conversations or the silence-filled shots that capture small symbolic moments in a character’s world makes this coming-of-age story unforgettable and completely mesmerizing. 

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