Licorice Pizza (2021)

Quick synopsis: A coming-of-age comedy-drama about a romance between a 15-year-old boy and a 25-year-old woman.

I can sense this is one a lot of people will read and disagree with me about. I just never got past the general concept. It just doesn’t sit right with me. The film ends with them getting back together and it making them happy. It’s presented as a good thing. The whole thing would have been improved if there was even a hint of uncertainty about the whole thing. I don’t like stealing endings from other films, but if they just redid the ending of The Graduate it would have improved it a lot. Add some uncertainty, make it clear to the audience that these people are making terrible choices. I’m not sure why they’re those ages either. Her character is so immature and he is starting businesses all the time so nothing would have been lost if you cut the difference and made them both 20.

It might have been easier for me to enjoy it if the two leads were likeable. They’re not, at least not when they’re with each other. They bring out the worst in each others characters, it makes Cooper Hoffmans character (Gary) seem more of an insecure incel-like asshole, and it makes Alana Haim’s character (Alana) seem more petty and stubborn. The two are never less likeable than when they’re with each other. There’s a moment where he tries to get her an acting gig, telling her “if they ask if you can do anything, say yes, always say yes if they ask anything”. They ask her if she would be comfortable doing nude scenes, she says yes. He’s annoyed. He explains later “oh, so you won’t show me your boobs but you’ll show the whole world?”. It just shows that he’s not mature enough for this kind of relationship, which is to be expected because, you know, he’s 15. But her reaction, of leaving, then coming back and flashing him, means he wins. His insecure way of dealing with things got him what he wanted. It would be like if a film showed the main character sulking because the restaurant wouldn’t give them a free meal, and then the restaurant acquiesces. Nobody learns a lesson, and everybody seems a little bit less likeable.

There are also moments where she’s needlessly needling him, just verbally poking him and exploring his biggest flaws just to annoy him. This isn’t cute, it doesn’t make her fun or playful, it makes her seem really manipulative, honestly considering the age it seems kind of abusive.

When they’re apart from each other, they’re much better. Her anger is aimed at more just causes, his determined nature and optimism make him seem more like a teenage wheeler-dealer than the sad sack he is when he’s with Alana. When they’re dealing with other characters they’re a bit more tolerable. The trouble is they meet other people far too often, and it branches off into plot points that only happen very briefly. For example, Gary is shown at the start to be a former child actor. Alana accompanies him to a performance (because he needs to be accompanied by an adult) and he hits the main performer in the back of the head. In this section, there’s tension with another child actor (played by Skyler Gisondo), but then he’s never seen or heard from past that section. Characters just flit in and out of the film without rhyme or reason. It feels like an ensemble piece that has been half-written and is going to complete the other characters arcs soon.

On the plus side, it has a very unique look to it. The moments where the couple meets with historical characters are quite fun, and the soundtrack is among my favourite of the year so far.

It feels not enough like a compelling story, and more like a 15 year old lying to his mates about what he got up to over the holidays “I dated an older girl, went to new york, played pinball, and sneaked a beer” A lot of people will like this, they’ll find it charming. Just wasn’t for me, I wasn’t charmed, and I found the narrative lacking. I’ve seen some people say “well you’re not watching the movie correctly if you’re looking for a narrative”. Possibly. The only Paul Thomas Anderson film I’ve seen before was Inherent Vice, and I didn’t rate that too highly either. Maybe I just don’t vibe with his style of film-making, it happens sometimes.

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