“I’m not going to forget you. Just like you’re not going to forget me.”
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza feels like a movie from a few decades past, reminiscent of Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous with its journey of self discovery in a nostalgic 1970s setting. The ten year age gap between Alana and Gary is uncomfortable — even if Gary is the pursuer, he is just 15 at the outset. Alana’s initial reluctance gives way to jealousy when she sees Gary interested in girls his age, and the inverse would surely be unpalatable. The script is uncritical, seeing Alana as a late bloomer and the coming of age story is really hers, with less of an arc for Gary (who is based on Anderson’s friend, Gary Goetzman). Both leads are newcomers, but display aptitude — Alana Haim conveys much through subtle expressions, whilst Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, a regular Anderson collaborator) exudes a caged energy as the permanently hustling salesman. The storyline meanders, sporadically engaging and running a little too long, although it chooses the right moment to end. I can only assume that nostalgia has a great deal to do with the strength of Licorice Pizza‘s critical reception, not only for its setting but the style of filmmaking. I found myself unable to identify with the characters or to find any depth to their inconsequential journey.
“They’re so easily taken when they are distracted, people are.”
There is a level of sleight of hand in selling six short films as a feature length release when they are essentially unconnected beyond their Western setting. Eccentric characters in farcical situations are a Coen Brothers staple but brevity leaves them feeling more like caricatures from Tim Blake Nelson as the titular crooning gunslinger of the opening tale to Tom Waits’ gold prospector to James Franco’s ill-fated bank robber. The exception is the penultimate tale, The Gal Who Got Rattled, which stands out as the best segment by some margin — its greater length allows its key players to develop so that we actually come to care about the events that befall them. The otherworldly final tale, in which strangers converse during a journey in a station wagon (with longform dialogue reminiscent of Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight but with none of the tension), hints at intended depth behind these dark morality plays that is never properly conveyed. The Coens’ signature style — aided by several strong performances — is still enough to sell the collection, butit falls short of the mark.