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Licorice Pizza – Pure Hollywood

Licorice Pizza is pure Hollywood and that’s just great – [4.5/5 stars]

First off: I haven’t been writing reviews for a while and I am extremely guilty about that, so this film was picked at random as the first film of the new year I’ve seen, not because it’s very political… or is it?

Second off: go to the cinema and watch Licorice Pizza. Its a lush fantasy, a feast for the eyes and a festival of Americana that anyone anywhere in the world will appreciate, even if they didn’t grow up in the 1970s US, because that era casts such a long shadow over all the culture we consume. It’s not only written but also directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (that’s Mr Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, The Master, There Will Be Blood! Go, leave now. Good film is happening — go!)

Two things that full on knocked me flat on looking up the film after leaving the cinema (I don’t read too much about films before seeing them so that I can be taken by surprise and transported or enraged — I know, how cool of me): the lead is Alana Haim of the band “Haim,” who released one of the best pop records of 2013, and her on-screen sisters are her real sisters who are also in the band. Nice.

Next: lead is Cooper Hoffman, the son of the great Philip Seymour Hoffman who of course died of an overdose at the height of his career in 2014, and starred many of Anderson’s previous films. Wow, just wow. The second son of a dead fat legend to star in a film in the last 12 months, but unlike Michael Gandolfini, Cooper Hoffman’s film is actually very good, not very bad.

The plot is… actually, you don’t need to know the plot. It’s the same setting and themes as a classic Bratpack coming of age film, but with a level of detail to the era and a level of film making that goes way beyond Pretty In Pink or similar. Plus its the 70s not the 80s.

However, although their are extravagant gestures, like every frame is a feast for the eyes because its shot on 35mm film on old equipment, comparison to genre films, to teen flicks stand, I think, because the film is an obvious fantasy.

The lack of acknowledgement by reviewers that this is the case — whether it was the director’s intention or not — is puzzling. While there has been some really good commentary on the feminism of the film, with is strong, realistic female lead struggling with the awkward ‘freedoms’ of the free-love era foisted upon her while still being denied most of the autonomy women would expect today — women being allowed to say yes, but not say no, perhaps — the film itself is best seen as someone remembering their youth through rose-tinted glasses, whilst half asleep.

The real world, like the 1973 Opec oil crisis sneaks in on TV only to be banished by Hoffman’s character who — at age 15 — is child actor, the owner of a water-bed delivery company, a PR firm, and a pinball arcade. He even employs his own mother. Yes some of this actually this is based on the true childhood stories of the directors friend Gary Goetzman, but the constant surreal cameos by the likes of Sean Penn, Tom Waits and a brilliantly demented Bradley Cooper place the piece firmly in the realm of the fantastic.

And that’s ok. In fact it’s better than ok, it’s brilliant. It’s a brilliant film, and the fact that it’s a completely unapologetic back-slapping, self-congratulatory Hollywood circle-jerk is what makes it brilliant. If you think about it too much you realise none of the characters are good people headed towards doing anything useful — but for a holiday inside a dream of a the golden years of the world’s now rapidly collapsing superpower, pack your bags.

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