Licorice Pizza by Paul Thomas Anderson [8/10]

Despite his longtime fame, for some reason “Licorice Pizza” is the first of his nine films I’ve seen, and I’m now bereft at missing the other eight, for this is a stunningly evocative, intelligent, funny comedy-fantasy-drama. Set in 1973 and stuffed with that era’s music, some famous, some obscure, and shot with wonderfully resonant-of-those-times cinematography (often tinged with exaggeration just shy of excess), the film’s arc is simple. When child actor Gary, aged 15 (played with aching realism by Cooper Hoffman; I can guarantee you’ve met someone just like Gary in your life), meets 25-year-old Alana, he is smitten. Anderson is simply brilliant in setting up that impelling premise within a couple of minutes of the film’s bouncy opening. Gary is fast-talking, an archetypal American entrepreneur, launching businesses around waterbeds and pinball machines. Alana is a clever, frustrated rebel within her conservative Jewish family in the San Fernando valley. Bemused, Alana resists Gary, and resists him, and resists him, even as the pair deal with wonderfully strange characters hammed up by the likes of Sean Penn and Brad Cooper. Suffused with nostalgic but universal in its storyline, Licorice Pizza is a delight from its kick-off to its unforgettable final scene.

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