Licorice Pizza | movie review
Looking for love with all the wrong ages.
Movie summary: The story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973. (IMDb)
Licorice Pizza is a bloody odd movie even if you ignore the equally bizarre title choice. It's so well made that you can enjoy it from start to finish thanks to the wonderful performances of everyone involved - and despite leaning heavily on 'artsy' stylings and tropes occasionally - but the premise it sets up is creepy from an in-story perspective and baffling when viewing it as a creative choice.
The issue being Alana Haim's character, also named Alana, being twenty-five and involved with fifteen year old Gary, played by Cooper Hoffman. Ignoring the even bigger age gap between the two actors, it's still a story about a twenty-five year old falling for someone ten years younger. Just imagine the backlash to this movie if the sexes has been reversed!
Hell, I've actually seen a few people praise Licorice Pizza for reversing the trend of older men with younger women, which would be fair enough if both people here were of legal age. Yes, it might well be more than a little gross to see a male actor in their sixties paired with a female actor half their age, but at least they're both adults, which isn't the case with Gary.
The reason I'd say the choice of ages for the characters is a baffling creative choice is that Gary doesn't behave anything like a fifteen year old, making that choice seem creepy in itself. Why couldn't he have been a few years older? Apart from getting his photo taken at school in the very beginning of the movie, there's nothing about Gary that needs him to be aged that young.
I didn't know about the age gap between the characters going in and I don't think I'll ever watch Licorice Pizza again as a result of knowing it now. It doesn't help that their relationship feels very much like the beginnings of something toxic with how often they each anger and/or upset the other and it certainly doesn't reflect well on Alana that she's settling for that kind of life with someone far too young for her.
Despite thinking about all of this afterwards, I can't lie and say I didn't enjoy the movie. It really is so well made that Haim and Hoffman will make you forget about the age gap between their characters - helped by both of them not behaving remotely like their ages - and see where things go in their lives. Oddly, it's very much a movie I'd love to see a sequel for because I can't imagine their relationship lasting in the slightest.
Then there's a point that is both praise and criticism, which is that writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson creates such an immersive atmosphere that you feel sucked into the world Licorice Pizza is set in, but it feels very 'cinematic' in the sense that it just doesn't feel like it resembles real life at all. Again, it's a joy to experience while watching but the setting feels very hollow and artificial when you think back on it.
So would I recommend watching the movie? I would say yes, if solely for the experience of watching it - including a brilliant comedically-unstable performance from Bradley Cooper - but I would just ignore how old the movie tells you the characters are and imagine the age gap is closer because it makes zero difference to the plot and makes the whole endeavour feel a little less creepy too.
Licorice Pizza is an excellently-made movie filled with brilliant performances and one of the most immersive atmospheres imaginable that is completely undone by its own premise, which just gets creepier and odder the more you think about it. It was a fantastic movie to experience while watching it, but I don't think I'd want to watch it again because it would just be too weird.