Licorice Pizza: Review

licorice pizza

Licorice Pizza: Review. By Nick Boyd.

“Licorice Pizza,” a coming-of-age movie set in the 1970s San Fernando Valley LA area, is a mixed bag of a film, certainly a disappointment, as I had high expectations going in.  Gary Valentine, played with smooth confidence by Cooper Hoffman in his strong film debut (Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s son) is a 15-year-old child actor who on school picture day finds himself smitten with one of the photographer’s assistants, 25-year-old Alana Kane, played by the musician Alana Haim in her film debut. 

After enough convincing on his part, they agree to go out to dinner, but she insists to him it is not a romantic date and initially thinks he comes off as somewhat creepy.  Eventually, though, romance does blossom and she joins him in one entrepreneurial venture after another as Gary keeps looking for the next big idea.  His carefree freedom and independence typify youth in the 70’s.  Alana’s parents and sisters are played by her real-life parents and sisters, which adds an authenticity to the movie.

The look and the feel of the film is warm and bright, from the way the characters dress, look, as well as the surrounding sights vividly evoking a bygone time.

While Gary’s future as a child actor is far from a sure thing, Alana decides to pursue acting and her audition with an agent, where the agent asks her specific questions about her abilities, is one of the movie’s funnier scenes.  

The romance between Gary and Alana is thankfully non-exploitative or overly sexual in what is shown and while the two seem to genuinely like each other, more so on Gary’s part, jealousy does develop when Alana starts seeing one of Gary’s fellow child actors named Lance (Skyler Gisondo) after she had accompanied Gary to New York for a performance.  Lance’s openness on his religious views after he’s been invited over to Alana’s for dinner provides an awkwardly comedic scene in the film.  Gary and Alana’s romantic relationship is very much on-again, off-again, which makes sense given the age difference and their capricious personalities.

The film works best when it focuses just on Gary and Alana and I wished it had not gotten sidetracked in meandering directions, which I felt took away from the impact of the film.  After going into a store where a woman greets him and he is told they sell waterbeds and Gary would be the first customer, right thereafter we see Gary, his friends, and Alana starting their own waterbed business, which seemed much too quick, especially given their ages and resources.  In another scene, when Gary is at an expo, he gets arrested for murder, which is obviously a case of mistaken identity, but this just seemed thrown in for no apparent reason or purpose. 

lIt happened so suddenly and abruptly as to temporarily take one out of the movie.  Then there is the restaurant owner talking with his Japanese wife, which left me cringing in my seat.  Likewise, seeing Alana having to walk around in a bikini to increase sales at the waterbed business when everyone else was fully dressed seemed overly objectified.  The character Rex Blau in the film (played by Tom Waits), who is a director, and a friend of Sean Penn’s character, Jack Holden, is obnoxious and brings the film down. 

When Penn’s character performs a motorcycle stunt on a golf course outside the restaurant with Alana riding behind him, the scene came across as over-the-top ridiculous in a bad way.  I could also have done without the over-the-top gay caricature depicted by Bradley Cooper’s character’s (Jon Peters) house manager.  Like with his waterbed business, Gary’s opening of the pinball arcade seems to occur much faster than what would think is realistic.  All of these side stories made the movie feel too long.

The film still works in enough goodwill and appeal to be worth a look, especially for those who have a fondness for nostalgia.  We come away having been lightly entertained by this sweet and gentle film.

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