Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2021, USA/Canada)

Licorice Pizza is a return-to-form for director Paul Thomas Anderson. After his last film - the period piece Phantom Thread - Anderson is returning to his childhood in California's San Fernando Valley - a setting that will be familiar to fans of the director's film Boogie Nights. From start to finish, Licorice Pizza is saturated with details from the director's youth. Yes, it's a nostalgia trip, but it is a glorious one - and it is rare these days to get a film that pays such attention to the small details of the past. In that sense alone, Licorice Pizza is a triumph.

The film also bears similarities to Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, in that it is also about personalities who live on the fringes of the Hollywood establishment. Our protagonist Gary Valentine is a young man who is a child actor. He is a nobody in the bigger picture, but he is a star to the people around him - including Alana Kane. Alana (played by Alana Haim) is a decade his senior. We're not quite sure what she wants, and she is going through a crisis of some time. The film follows the trajectory of their relationship throughout the film, including several ups and downs.

For those who prefer a very strict linear narrative, Licorice Pizza will be disappointing. The film goes off on tangents, including a very long segment involving Sean Penn as an older actor and Bradley Cooper as an insane Jon Peters. But for those who love to soak in details and recreated environments, Licorice Pizza is enjoyable. While not a perfect film and probably not P.T. Anderson's best, Licorice Pizza is still better than many films that came out this past year and deserves the accolades it is receiving, particularly for its performances.



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