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"Licorice Pizza" Review

 It's two weeks until the Oscars are handed out so that means grinding through as many of the nominees as possible and after watching Licorice Pizza, Paul Thomas Anderson's latest effort nominated for Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay, I want the Academy to be burned down and the ashes razed and the land salted. It's not that it's a bad movie - it's perfectly innocuous and pleasant - but if this is what they consider "best" then the word no longer has its old meaning. (To be frank, it killed my interest in slogging through the rest of the nominations.)

 Based heavily on the life of Anderson's friend, Gary Goetzman (who really should've been given a story credit), it tells the improbable but apparently true-ish story of precocious 15-year-old child actor Gary (Cooper Hoffman, who reminds of Paul Dano, but is Philip Seymour Hoffman's son, making his film debut) and his romantic pursuit of Alana (Alana Haim of the band Haim, a fellow rookie whose band mate sisters and their parents also appear as her family), a school photographer's assistant who is 10 years older. When his publicist mother (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) is unable to chaperone Gary to NYC for a television appearance, Alana gets the task, setting things rolling.

 What follows is series of vignettes which separately trace their lives and how they criss-cross. He starts a waterbed store and sets her up with his agent so she can try acting. She tries dating a slightly older co-star of his, but rejects him for his atheism and rejection of his Judiasm, but later volunteers for an upstart Jewish mayoral candidate more her age. Throughout, we're supposed to believe there's a will-they-or-won't-they sexual tension in their February-March relationship.

 Adding to the disjointedness are the Big Name Star cameos like the 10-15 minute-long digression involving Sean Penn as an older star (Spicoli is 61 now, kids) and Tom Waits as a director who drunkenly have a dumb idea at dinner. While modestly amusing, it, like just about everything else serves no narrative purpose. 

Bradley Cooper's scenes as a full metal a-hole Jon Peters are a hoot, but are also superfluous and when you ponder how much work went into shooting the sequence of an out of gas moving truck rolling backwards down a twisty canyon road or gathering all the circa-1973 cars to populate the gas lines, it just shows what a self-indulgent personal nostalgia trip Licorice Pizza is for Anderson. (However, the soundtrack is laden with anachronistic needle drops from years after the setting.)

It feels like he cribbed random Cameron Crowe scene sketches and didn't bother trying to connect them with a narrative. It doesn't seem certain whether the protagonist is Gary or Alana. The ease with which a modest child star is able to capitalize his businesses as a minor is unexplained. But most damaging is we never really understand why a 25-year-old woman would even be interested in this kid. If she had a bad breakup with an abusive boyfriend, perhaps the cradle-robbing wouldn't strain credulity, but she doesn't have any existential angst or trauma. Oddly, for being a minor star at a public school, Gary doesn't seem to attract any admiring fans from his classmates. 

Haim and Hoffman are both appealing and natural performers who give little hint of neophyte status. As the son of an Oscar-winner, Hoffman will likely get more work, but Haim's plainer looks make it more likely she'll stick to her musician day job.

In counterpoint to my grouchy stance, my girlfriend really enjoyed it because it wasn't heavy, it was amusing enough and sweet. She's not wrong in that it's not a complete waste of time and I'll admit much of my antipathy towards Licorice Pizza is borne of my annoyance at the Academy. Licorice Pizza serves no higher purpose which warrants it being gifted three - and only these three - Oscar nominations because, with Woody Allen being unpersoned after endless false accusations of child molestation, P.T. Anderson is the lucky default "art house slot" guy. (Same reason Drive My Car got the same Picture/Director/Screenplay noms and nothing else to fill the designated foreign film slot in hopes of recreating Parasite's win because Hollyweird's self-loathing knows no bounds.)

Being a half-hour too long and being pointless doesn't make Licorice Pizza a movie to avoid, but it serves as another indictment of how wildly out-of-touch and committed to visually inspecting their own colons the Academy is when House of Gucci gets snubbed in favor of wanks like this.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.  


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