<‘Licorice Pizza’ Review: California Dreaming And Scheming>
“Licorice Pizza,” a shaggy, fitfully brilliant romp from Paul Thomas Anderson, takes place in a 1973 dream of bared midriffs and swinging hair, failures and pretenders. It’s set in Encino, a Los Angeles outpost in the shadow of Hollywood and the birthplace of such films as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Boogie Nights,” Anderson’s 1997 breakout about a striver’s passage into pornographic stardom. There’s DNA from both old and New Hollywood in “Licorice Pizza,” a coming-of-age romance in which no one grows up.
The film’s improbable teenage hero is Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour Hoffman), another classic striver. A child performer who’s hit maximum adolescent awkwardness, Gary is 15 and aging out of his professional niche. He still performs, but has started to diversify. Yet even as he embraces uncertain new ventures, his faith in himself remains steady, keeping his smile lit and smooth talk oozing. Deranged optimism and self-importance are American birthrights, and if his confidence weren’t so poignantly outsized — and if Anderson were in a tougher mood — Gary would be a figure of tragedy rather than of comedy.
Anderson always maintains a level of detachment toward his characters, letting you see their unembellished flaws, both insignificant and defining. He loves them with the prerogative of any director. But his love for Gary is special, as lavish as that of an indulgent parent, and his affection for the character is of a piece of the soft nostalgic glow he pumps into “Licorice Pizza,” blunting its edges and limiting the film’s overall effect. The gap between what you see in Gary and what he sees in himself makes the character hard to get a handle on, and more interesting. Gary blunders and bluffs, finding success and defeat, fueled by a braggadocio that, much like one of the earthquake faults running under the city, threatens to bring the whole thing tumbling down at any moment.
This instability suits the freewheeling, episodic structure, even if Gary wears out his welcome. The film opens on a school picture day with high-school boys preening in a bathroom and lines of students snaking outside. An amusingly portentous cherry bomb explodes in a toilet and before long Gary is ogling Alana (Alana Haim, the rock musician), an assistant for a creep who’s taking the kids’ pictures. The photographer slaps her ass. Gary is more of a romantic. He’s knocked out by Alana, instantly smitten, a thunderbolt moment that Anderson memorializes with a prodigious tracking shot that gets both the camera and the story’s juices going. Gary has met the girl he’s going to marry even if she doesn’t know it.
Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/25/movies/licorice-pizza-review.html462