I’m still not sure what the point of Licorice Pizza is, but it’s one hell of half of a great movie. From Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of one of the best movies of all time—There Will Be Blood—and a handful of other greats, this meandering romantic comedy drama gives zero shits about structure or purpose or even its audience and in doing so delivers one of the most satisfying stretches of film you’ve seen all year… until it runs out of steam and withers in front of you.
Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, both in their feature debuts, absolutely sizzle on screen. Haim is a delight, playing an offbeat young woman of indiscernible age prone to bouts of rage but constantly drawn to men (or boys) of power or seeming sophisticaton. She’s an enigma, at once alluring and off putting, her character one of the most fascinating put to screen in recent memory. Equally so is Hoffman’s, a 15-year-old of incalculable confidence and charisma that he uses to charm women and make profits, no matter the means. Hoffman looks and acts like his father, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman; he is a force on screen.
Which is why Licorice Pizza flails in its final hour. As Haim takes center stage, Hoffman is pushed aside to follow her pursuit of a better life (even if it keeps circling back to him). The movie is noticeably less-good when Hoffman isn’t involved; the two have such undeniable and overpowering chemistry the story feels absent when they aren’t together.
Licorice Pizza features several prolonged “cameos” played by the likes of Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper, but they serve more as distractions than complements to the story. The movie really starts to fade when Penn joins the production, to no fault of his; Anderson seems to get lost in his willingness to let randomness take over, veering his story off course to the degree it never fully recovers.
The first half of Licorice Pizza deserves to be seen—it’s some of the best and funniest filmmaking of the year—and Haim and Hoffman both turn in award-worthy material. It, and they, are fantastic. But the second half is a chore, serving up much more licorice than pizza.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.