California. 1973. Childhood. That is the entire premise of Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie Licorice Pizza.
You really don’t need to know anything more than that it follows Cooper Hoffman (Not so fun fact, The Master by Paul Thomas Anderson was one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last few movies and this movie is his son’s first ever movie) and Alana Haim as they fall in love. There are the yellows and oranges and reds of the 1970s, muscle cars that are dried up as the gas shortage rages on, and a really groovy soundtrack that, as my father puts it, “Makes you feel like you were there in the 70s.” He should know, he was just about the age of the characters at the time.
The main complaint with this film is that there isn’t really a plot. And there really isn’t one. But, that’s the magic of this movie. It meanders and finds its way and reaches out towards something without any purpose or great understanding just like the children in the film. Their attention spans are short and thus so is the movie’s attention span. They sell waterbeds, open a pinball “palace,” go out to dinner and drink, mess around with pretty girls, make short movies, and just hang out. This movie is the life of a fifteen year old in California with tons of money and freedom at his disposal; of course it’s going to go all over the place. There isn’t even a specific amount of time or even a real season that this film is set in. It’s all just sunny San Fernando Valley with shorts and a summer-y breezy feel. This movie doesn’t abide by any rules and doesn’t have to.
Yet, beneath all of the flash and glamor of the gilded appearance of Hollywood, this movie is about a boy who falls in love with a girl and a girl who gets enraptured with a boy finally to declare the ending line, “I love you, Gary.” It can warm even the most callous and cold of hearts (mine included) and really brings hope. Not in some cliche way or even in the typical Rom-Com way of hope. Because this movie certainly gets dark before it gets better and the underbelly and psychosis of Hollywood is shown. Nonetheless, you are shielded by the innocence of childhood.
I can’t help but love this film. It is nothing but pure vibes and it is the master of storytelling through visuals. It makes me yearn for a childhood neither me or my dad, or anyone for that matter, ever really had. It makes me feel feelings that feel like something and brings a smile to my face. It is not the funniest movie but it has its moments. It is not the most serious movie but it has its moment. It is not the best movie ever made but it has its moments. And this movie certainly is a moment in time suspended forever. This movie ultimately delivers touching moments and heartbreaking dialogue underscored by awesome cinematography and sleek visuals.
Daniel Wartham is a current grad student and spends his free time watching movies and taking walks to Waffle House at 2am. He can be found on Twitter at @DanielWartham.