“Licorice Pizza” is candy sweet

Hannah Owens Pierre, Section Editor

Zephyrus Arts and Entertainment Editor Hannah Owens Pierre examines each Oscar Best Picture nominee in a countdown to the awards ceremony on March 27

The latest indie hit of Sundance Film Festival veteran Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza” is a delightfully charming coming-of-age film about Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and Alana Kane (Alana Haim) growing up and falling in love in the ‘70s. 

“Licorice Pizza” is unlike many of Anderson’s latest hits. Rather than being dark and psychologically twisted, it is light and playful. But what it shares in common with the rest of Anderson’s catalog is an absurdly witty sense of humor. 

Coming-of-age movies are almost always hit or miss. They follow similar structures and jokes, so it takes a special touch to execute one that feels memorable. “Licorice Pizza” falls into the category of the latter. It is similar to breakout 2017 hit “Lady Bird,” albeit less authentic to the modern teenage experience. 

Yet the movie is still consistently joyful and exhilarating to watch. Its cinematography captures the gleaming, dreamlike quality of vintage California brilliantly and with popping color. The soundtrack doesn’t disappoint with classic 70s songs that aren’t overused. The best song by far is the tune to the trailer, “Life on Mars” by David Bowie. “Licorice Pizza” captures the fantastical essence of the song. 

It also benefits from stunning, complex performances by the two leads. It is shocking that this is Haim’s first acting role given how effortlessly she moves on screen. It undoubtedly helps that she’s playing another version of herself: Alana’s character shares her name and her family is portrayed by the actress’s real family. Hoffman is also expertly charismatic playing a character that would otherwise come off as wholly sleazy and manipulative. 

Yet “Licorice Pizza” has its fair share of controversy. Prior to its release, the film was met with intense backlash for its stereotypical portrayal of Japanese characters and for depicting an inappropriate age gap relationship between the two leads: Alana is 25 while Gary is 15. The subplots surrounding two minor Japanese characters did significantly detract from the enjoyment of the film. It seems as though Anderson intended to mock the racism of white restaurateurs, but the joke feels misguided at best and dehumanizing at worst. 

However, the age gap relationship is handled in better taste. “Licorice Pizza” avoids glamorizing or even explicitly romanticizing Gary and Alana’s relationship. It more so focuses on the character development of each character with their relationship as the catalyst for this growth. 

Watching “Licorice Pizza” is like floating through a pleasant dream. For some, the lull will last too long, but for others, it will be a welcome trip of escapism away from the stresses of the present. Either way, its youthful adrenaline is hypnotic.