Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
By Clay Thompson | Internal
What threw me for a loop when I first started watching the film “Licorice Pizza” — aside from the strangely haunting music video that played before the movie even officially began — what the age difference between the two protagonists, Gary Valentine and Alana Kane. Gary is a 15-year-old teenage actor making his dreams come true in the California San Fernando Valley during the 1970s, and Alana is a 25-year-old photography assistant with a seemingly aimless grasp on life. This is how a truly strange, yet beautiful film sets the stage.
First and foremost, for those who are not interested in “weird films” with seemingly no coherent plot or story, then turn away now. However, what drew me to “Licorice Pizza” was not the lack of story or the weird style of acting and filmmaking, but the messages. What “Licorice Pizza” lacks in a storyline it makes up for in message: Growing up or coming of age is not limited by age. As the film progresses and the characters grow both together and apart, it shows subtly yet profoundly how people of any age can still be finding their way through life and have no idea how they want to live, what they want to do or who they want to love
However, the beautiful messages and themes of the film would not have come across to audiences as strong as they did without the dynamite chemistry and acting of the two main leads of the film. In her first acting role, Alana Haim plays Kane as a delightfully aggressive yet vulnerable young woman who is reluctant to Valentine’s advances, but slowly learns to grow herself while keeping him in her life.
Cooper Hoffman, son of the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, also made his acting debut in “Licorice Pizza,” portraying his character Gary Valentine as a smitten, suave, charismatic and awkward 15-year-old child star trying to stay relevant in a time and industry that did not take too kindly to child stars growing up.
His optimistic, happy-go-lucky character makes for both an excellent paring and foil to Haim’s Kane in the film. Their chemistry in the film is immediately apparent from their first scene together, and as their lives grow more and more together, their relationship grows so organically, yet awkwardly. You could swear it was your own “first love story.”
With two first-time actors making stunning breakout performances in a film that ditches plotlines for profundity, it is no surprise that director Paul Thomas Anderson’s film “Licorice Pizza” was nominated for Best Picture at the 2022 Oscars, earning him a Best Director nominee for the film as well. What’s surprising is that neither Hoffman nor Haim were nominated for Best Leading Actor or Actress, respectively.
I would recommend this film to anyone willing to open their mind to a more atypical type of film. You will be blown away by this romantic coming-of-age drama that is so much more than meets the genre.