Set in California’s San Fernando Valley in 1973, P.T. Anderson’s follow up to Phantom Thread is another story of unlikely romance, as well as so much more. Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is a teenage actor with a ruthless self-confidence who, spotting Alana Kane (played by musician Alana Haim), instantly takes a romantic interest in a women ten years his senior.
Alana’s rejection of this inappropriately young suitor doesn’t stop the two of them forming a life changing friendship, one that will pull them into the orbit of 1970s Hollywood. Heading off on a series of freewheeling, hustling adventures, Gary and Alana’s dream of finding artistic fame and fortune is a vehicle for Anderson’s evocative, loving, clear-eyed deconstruction of a California state of mind, and an era.
Loosely autobiographical as well as drawing on a host of influences from Robert Altman to writer Erich Segal, Licorice Pizza is Anderson’s return to the loose, comedic feel of films like Punch-Drunk Love, Inherent Vice and Boogie Nights. Funny, fuzzy, and utterly heart-warming, what starts off as an evocative and loving tribute to the early ‘70s soon emerges as a ruthless satire of a time of rampant prejudice, inequality and corruption, one in which confidence and charm could potentially bring fame and fortune, as well as involvement with the seedy underbelly of politics and the movie business. It’s Anderson’s blend of period piece, deft social commentary and pure comic charm that astounds, here.
With memorable turns from the likes of Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper, Tom Waits, Benny Safdie, Maya Rudolph and John C. Reilly as characters inspired by some of Hollywood’s most colourful personalities, Licorice Pizza is a film both in love with and apart from its era, exploring a complex, lovingly restored social and artistic history whilst never losing sight of the connection, and wide-eyed optimism, of the two characters that form its breathless heart.
Led by star-making turns from debutants Hoffman and Haim, the resulting film sees Anderson somehow exceed the brilliance of his previous work, as well as effectively ending the film of the year debate on 1 January. Unmissable.
Licorice Pizza opens at Tyneside Cinema on 2 January. Screenings from 7th January will be on 35mm.