‘Licorice Pizza’ Review

There aren’t very many filmmakers whose releases feel like events. When Tarantino’s love letter to cinema Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood released in 2019, it was an event. When David Fincher’s Citizen Kane-inspired Mank hit Netflix in 2020, it was an event. Whenever Martin Scorsese’s film does the same in 2022, it will certainly be an event. Another filmmaker with this status is Paul Thomas Anderson, and his new film Licorice Pizza is certainly an event film.

PTA setting a film in the sweet and hazy San Fernando Valley in the 1970s feels like such an easy W to close off 2021. As viewers are going to see on their socials throughout the awards season, Licorice Pizza is a love letter to PTA’s childhood experience. The film is filled with teenage emotional drama – from Gary Valentine’s apparent waterbed fetish to his crush-turned-obsession to Alana Kane, someone who’s 25 to his 15. But Gary IS 15 going on 25, and Alana is 25 going on, well, always 25?

Gary is driven and determined. It’s what keeps his relationship with Alana. If he sticks around, he’s bound to break resistance. It’s a connection that folks on the internet have claimed as grooming, but PTA handles it in a delicate manner. It isn’t one character leading another along knowingly. It just happens to be that Gary and Alana are ten years apart.

Licorice Pizza is a love letter to PTA’s childhood experience.

What Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted with Licorice Pizza is a fractured memory. Every moment in these teenagers’ lives are sensationalized. It’s as if this is being told by someone who is always trying to one-up your story by claiming they helped a congressman win office or opened up a successful pinball arcade at the age of 15. None of it makes sense, but in a world without parental guidance or vision, anything is possible.

Most of Paul Thomas Anderson’s career has been filled with movies with an underlying sense of anger and hostility. There Will Be Blood, The Master, and even Punch-Drunk Love aren’t positive films. They dig and dig at the concepts of capitalism, religion, and the overall human condition. But Phantom Thread started to loosen up those dark and sinister feelings in his films. Now, PTA is arguably at the sweetest and most sincere part of his career. It’s a transition that makes sense given where he’s at in his life with his family. Not a care in the world as he must sit at home and rewatch Venom: Let There Be Carnage over and over again with his kids.

The final product of Licorice Pizza was one I can not wait to return to as soon as I possibly can. I left the theater completely captivated and enamored with what Paul Thomas Anderson was able to pull off. It’s my favorite theater experience of all the 2021 releases I saw. PTA continues to knock it out of the park with hit film after hit film.

Paul Thomas Anderson as a Modern Auteur