Licorice Pizza is one of the ten films nominated for Best Picture in this year’s Academy Awards. It is yet another coming of age story of American youth, this time set in the 1970’s. I have to admit that I am confused by the film’s title. Those expecting to find a story that has pizza’s featured in it will be sorely disappointed. Apparently the term “licorice pizza” is a slang that refers to vinyl records which were popular in the 1970’s and 1980’s. There was a famous record store chain in Southern California named Licorice Pizza. However, despite its meaning, the vinyl records are not a prominent feature here so the only rationale behind the title here is its reference to life in the 1970’s.
The story follows the exploits of two main characters, Gary, a 15 year old part time child actor and amazingly enterprising young entrepreneur, and Alana, a much older 25 year old who is the subject of Gary’s affection. Gary and Alana are very well played by young stars Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim. Cooper Hoffman, I may add is the son of Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film is directed and written by Paul Thomas Andersen who is well known and regarded in the industry for a long list of illustrious films including Boogie Nights, There Will be Blood, The Master and Magnolia. Licorice Pizza is probably less ambitious in scale and theme compared to his previous films. His trademark witty script is probably the best thing about Licorice Pizza, as is his ability to draw out some amazing scene stealing cameo appearances by some big names like Sean Pean, Bradley Cooper, and Harriet Sansom Harris (from TV’s Desperate Housewives). Apparently many of these cameo characters are based on real life people but portrayed in as a more exaggerated and eccentric persona. My favourite scene was the one delivered by Harriet Sansom Harris as a movie agent interviewing Alana. Her performance with the delivery of the script and facial expressions was simply hilarious and priceless.
Many of these bit parts comes across as episodic and standalone snippets of what our main characters experienced. That means the main story line does not flow like an ordinary movie with all the scenes related to each other. This makes it feel a bit like I a binge watching episodes from a TV series. I personally did not fancy this style of story telling for a full length movie and think this would probably have been more palatable as a half hour comedy TV series. Its jagged flow I felt affected the continuity of the main plot and diluted the impact of the film’s conclusion. I also felt that the main character Gary’s uncanny ability to do business and command influence across a wide sector of the business world, quite implausible without a background story to support it. Finally, I have to comment that I do not get a good sense of the period of time span depicted. It seems like a lot happens but I have no idea if this is something that happened over one summer, or a year, or over a few years …
As a Best Picture nominee, I would rank Licorice Pizza low in the probability of winning the coveted prize but who knows, I have often been in total conflict when it comes to alignment with the mainstream critics opinion. Some moments of brilliance and great performances in some unrelated scenes here and there don’t make it great or a complete package for me.