John Latchem


Box office $17.32 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated “R” for language, sexual material and drug use.
With Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie.

Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, whose films typically emphasize mood rather than story, adds to his oeuvre with Licorice Pizzahis reflection on life growing up in Los Angeles in the early 1970s.

The film’s centerpiece is an unconventional love story between a 15-year-old child actor and an apathetic 25-year-old woman he flirts with during a photo day at his high school.

Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, a frequent collaborator of Anderson, makes his debut as Gary Valentine, a young hustler loosely based on producer Gary Goetzman. He is instantly drawn to the sassy Alana (Alana Haim, a musician also making her film debut), who finds herself intrigued by his boldness despite being 10 years older than him.

Gary, as an actor whose mother is involved in marketing several restaurants in the San Fernando Valley, seems to have connections all over town and is quick to exploit any opportunity for profit. First, he starts a business selling waterbeds, recruiting several of his friends, including Alana, to help run it.

Things are going great until the oil crisis inflates the costs of the plastics needed for his beds, forcing him to close up shop, but not before a final move into the home of eccentric Hollywood personality Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper), leading to a crazy night around town.

Questioning her life choices, Alana turns to political activism, allowing Anderson to dramatize the real-life mayoral campaign of Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs (Benny Safdie).

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Like most of Anderson’s films, Licorice Pizza is carried by quirky characters and unconventional dialogue. The title refers to an old chain of record stores, which Anderson likened to evoking the feeling of childhood memories. The film is somewhat ethereal in this regard, more like a series of vignettes connected by character arcs. Its soulful quality might make it feel disconnected to some viewers, though PTA fans should enjoy its usual touchstones embedded throughout.

Fans of Hollywood history will also appreciate the many references to the 1970s entertainment industry, much like Once upon a time in Hollywood paid homage to Hollywood in the 1960s.

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The Blu-ray includes a handful of extras but nothing too exciting. Most interesting is a two-minute deleted scene that brings back a rather important joke that is in the film. There’s also Gary filming a fake commercial for his waterbed store.

Also included are four minutes of camera testing and a 10.5-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that simply shows the scenes being filmed, without any interviews or context. In fact, the Blu-ray doesn’t really offer a chat with the filmmakers, leaving the movie’s message to stand on its own. Curious viewers looking for such information will have better luck on the Internet.