'Licorice Pizza' Review: Should You Watch or Not?

With only "The 355" opening this weekend, it might be just the time to check out this slowly expanding buzz film from legendary director Paul Thomas Anderson.

Chuck Walton

By Chuck Walton

Licorice Pizza Review

© MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection

While it's been out nearly a month in extremely limited release (and due to Omicron, will hold steady in its current release until next month), now might be just perfect to seek out "Licorice Pizza." It's currently in about 786 theaters in the US.

Paul Thomas Anderson's latest love letter to LA (following up "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia," "Inherent Vice") and particularly first, young love in the 1970s, has racked up lots of critical and awards buzz this season. It was the National Board of Review's Best Film of 2021, and won Best Screenplay from the New Film Critics Circle. It's also garnering all kinds of Oscar consideration for Anderson, as well as recognition for first-time actors Alana Haim (of the band Haim) and Cooper Hoffman (son of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman).

So is this buzz release from the maker of "Punch Drunk Love" worth the hype? Take a look at our thoughts below.

Reasons to Watch

© MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection

© MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection

  • This story about the budding relationship between a 15-year-old LA actor/entrepreneur, Gary Valentine (Hoffman), and a 25-year-old photographer's assistant, Alana Kane (Haim), is nostalgic and realistic in just the right measure. It doesn't totally sugar coat its early '70s setting, when casual notions of patriarchal sexism and racism are unfortunately in many ways the norm. But it's also told through the eyes of two wide-eyed youths, and Anderson's rich period details, San Fernando Valley sights and seriously awesome soundtrack, will have you wanting a slice of licorice pizza, too.
  • Both Hoffman and Haim are revelations. They don't appear to be "acting" at all. Hoffman's Valentine is supremely confident, knows the tricks and tips as a seasoned Angeleno hustler, but is never quite certain where he stands with the much older Alana. And Haim's character has the best reactions not only to Valentine, but to her entire world, which includes her real-life sisters and Mom and Dad as her movie family.
  • Overall, "Licorice Pizza" may feature the best ensemble of the year. Sean Penn is spot-on as a William Holden-type older actor. And Bradley Cooper nearly steals the whole movie as infamous movie producer Jon Peters, who dates Barbara Streisand, requires Gary to properly pronounce her last name (emphasis, "Sand") and oozes a mix of charm and chaos that's absolutely hilarious.

Or Not?

  • There's been controversy already about John Michael Higgins' character Jerry Frick. He's the owner of the first Japanese restaurant in the valley, and he does have a couple of scenes that are legitimately questionable, definitely cringe-worthy. His Japanese "accent" isn't something to be laughed at at all, and it's strange Anderson has defended it as honest to the period. So? Is it necessary?
  • At the end of the day, while it makes sense these two particular characters, Gary and Alana, end up where they do, it's also understandable that viewers will question the appropriateness of their relationship. As well, though, most will see that these two are likeminded souls. The movie's more concerned at embracing a spirit, and it does that extremely well.

Watch or Not?

When it comes to "Licorice Pizza," we recommend looking to see if it is playing near you, and ordering it up with all the toppings.

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the few filmmakers working today who literally has not made a bad film. He's a true talent, as are all of his collaborators, and they've distilled the joyful essence of youth to perfection in their latest LA-set masterpiece. For Anderson fans, and anybody who loves movies, this is a pure cinema treat worth savoring.

Watch in theaters now

Licorice Pizza Poster

Licorice Pizza

R

Drama

November 26, 2021

Chuck Walton

Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.

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