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Licorice Pizza (2021)

Alana (Alana Haim) and Gary (Cooper Hoffman), young, naive, strange—and they are both eager for love. Licorice Pizza is the story of two young individuals on the prowl for something great. Whether that’s love, money, or something else entirely, the two are ready to give one-hundred percent, one-hundred percent of the time. However, sometimes the things we want most in life are the things that elude us.

Licorice Pizza spends a lot of time running around and attempting to develop a story for Alana and Gary, both together and separately. I don’t think that the film ever reaches a place where viewers go “oh, that makes sense.” The film as a whole is very scatterbrained, unwilling to settle on one thing and go from there–as it feels like Licorice Pizza is constantly starting over, attempting to reinvent itself–and that becomes frumpy and unappealing. I constantly found myself saying “an hour and a half left?!,” “an hour left?!,” because the film feels as if the trajectory of the film changes so often and that it drags on forever and ever.

I’m not really sure what Licorice Pizza is, and I’m not really sure that Licorice Pizza knows what Licorice Pizza is. It’s incredibly artsy, it’s simple, and it’s innocent, but that’s not enough to express to viewers what it intends to be, or what its purpose is. With a film that bounces around so abundantly and so often, viewers need to know (or at least have some inkling) of what the purpose of the film might be–even if we have to ultimately wade around in the mess and figure it out for ourselves. Licorice Pizza, however, is just life. It doesn't make me happy, it doesn’t teach me anything, and it doesn’t make me feel anything emotionally–it’s simply, sort of, there.

A film should make me feel something–even if that something is stupid. I want a film to have meaning, even if it’s hidden deep within the seven depths of Hell. That meaning never comes–and I ultimately feel like Licorice Pizza, compared to the other films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, lacks in so many ways.

The one thing that I love about this film is the acting. Neither Haim or Hoffman have very long resumes (as a matter of fact, this is Hoffman’s first acting endeavor). However, both fill their roles beautifully, and they do allow the film to move along–even if at a slow pace. Cinematically the film finds some success, and Director Paul Thomas Anderson knows how to make a film run–but, what still stands out to me the most is the acting. Haim is hilarious, and she knows how to reach her audience, and Hoffman is the star of the show. The two have wonderful chemistry, and they feed off of one another throughout the entirety of Licorice Pizza. They are funny, and they have an ability to connect with viewers on a comedic level, which is enough to keep viewers engaged.

Licorice Pizza isn’t bad, but it’s not good either–and falling somewhere in the middle of the spectrum doesn’t warrant a nomination for Best Picture. I’m confused at what viewers and critics saw in this film that allowed it to be nominated for not one, not two, but three Academy Awards. There are moments when the light shines through and viewers get something worth their while (and typically that comes from the acting), but the majority of the film drags on without a definitive direction or course of action, and that is simply disappointing. One of the best films of 2021, I don’t think so. However, for some of the comedy, it may be worth your time.

Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

Starring Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Skyler Gisondo, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, John Michael Higgins, Christine Ebersole, Harriet Sansom Harris, Bradley Cooper, Ryan Heffington, Nate Mann, Benny Safdie, Joseph Cross, etc.




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