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  • Wendy Shreve

THE SWEET AND SOUR TASTE OF LICORICE PIZZA

As human beings, we all mature physically from childhood to adolescence and then into adulthood, but our emotions lag behind.

--Bernard Sumner, musician


What happens when a fifteen-year-old boy falls in love with a twenty-five-year-old woman?

The possibilities appear endless. Licorice Pizza (2021), directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, begins with Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) meeting the woman whom he believes he'll marry one day, Alana Kane (Alana Haim). Displaying an opportunistic maturity beyond his years, the former child actor encourages Alana to join Gary in opening a waterbed store. In the course of the ill-fated business decision, the two awkward people become closer albeit without a physical relationship.


Set during the 1970s in the San Fernando Valley, California, Gary's mother a publicist--there's no mention of the absent father--supports her son's schemes. Whereas, Alana's devout Jewish father tries to keep watch over his youngest errant daughter and her older sisters--all of whom live with their parents.


When the sweet intention unravels, however, the odd title begins to make more sense--a sour taste develops as pubescent zaniness emerges tangentially, without any underlying purpose:

Bradley Cooper's Jon Peters (former hairdresser turned movie producer and ex-boyfriend of Barbra Streisand) being one example. From his first appearance the audience (my friend included) struggled to find any relevance to his temper tantrums that devolve into violent tirades.


Another example, Sean Penn's appearance as a fake William Holden, a.k.a. Jack Holden, has potential until it deteriorates, in part due to nonsensical dialogue. The entire scene contributes little to the plot progression other than to imperil Alana and have Gary attempt a rescue.


Many a film has been made about this era, Almost Famous (2000), e.g., and yet what could've been a nostalgic rom-com with heart becomes a mish-mash comedy that oddly injects serious social commentary two-thirds into the story as a catalyst for Alana to attempt to be an adult.


Memorable music permeates the narrative; however, the songs often obscure the unoriginal dialogue (confirmed by friend who also watched the movie). In contrast, the performances by all involved underscore how much talent exists in Hollywood waiting to be tapped and chosen for better material.


Licorice Pizza features some sweet confections which elicit smiles and an occasional laugh, but the movie turns sour when it tries too hard.


Rated R for never-ending expletives, suggestive sexual references, adult themes and snippets of violence.


Now playing at select theaters. Locals: The Cape Cinema, Dennis, MA.



Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/wendy-shreve/movies or my previous blog site, featuringfilm.com


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