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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Mar 4, 2022



PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON first gained acclaim for “Boogie Nights” in 1997, which is about porn films in the 70s and 80s. 

He followed this up strongly with “Magnolia” in 1999 about many characters looking for love and meaning in life, set in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. Both films got Oscar nominations.

In 2002, he tried to do a romcom with Adam Sandler and Emily Watson, "Punch Drunk Love", but it didn’t well at the tills. 

In 2007, he did “There Will Be Blood” that won Daniel Day Lewis his second Oscar as a greedy oil prospector at the turn of the century.

He did “The Master” in 2012 and “Inherent Vice” in 2014, but they weren’t as impressive. He bounced back to acclaim in 2017 with “Phantom Thread” about a designer and his love for a strong-willed young woman which we truly, really liked. 

Now comes his new film, “Licorice Pizza”, a personal film about growing up and nostalgia in the 70s, once again set in San Fernando Valley. 

It’s currently an Oscar best picture nominee and we don’t really know why. Maybe, if you’re familiar with its time and milieu, you’d get to like the movie more. 

But personally, we cannot connect well with it and its characters and its loose and meandering narrative structure. 

If you’re a diehard Anderson fan, we’re sure you’d appreciate it more as he is noted for creating individually stunning moment/ scenes on screen. 

Set in 1973, the lead character is a 15-year old actor, Gary Valentine, played by Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman who did ‘The Master’ with Anderson. 

Cooper doesn’t look 15. He’s pudgy and looks older, but he’s good.

He is in grade 10 and they’re having their class picture taken when he befriends the photographer’s assistant, Alana Kane (played by singer Alana Haim who belongs to the rock band called Haim with her sisters, who also appear in the movie.)

He tries to impress her with questions like: “So Alana, what are your plans? What does your future look like?”

She is 25 but that doesn’t stop him to ask her for a date. She asks him how will he pay for it and he answers: “I’m a showman. It’s my calling.” 

For his age, Gary is really quite a hustler. He gets into selling waterbeds and when it fizzled out, he sells pinball machines.

To pep up the movie, we have big stars doing cameo roles. First is Sean Penn as Jack Holden, a fading film star (said to be based on William Holden) who tries to impress Alana with his motorcycle stunt. 

Then there’s the episode with Bradley Cooper as real life hairstylist-producer Jon Peters who was then the boyfriend of Barbra Streisand, and with Tom Waits as an aging film director. 

The title refers to a record store chain called Licorice Pizza that has long been gone. Some reviewers are raving about the film and, honestly, we don’t know if we saw the same movie. 

Ours was really quite disjointed, with very disparate scenes: like Gary falsely arrested by cops, Alana in a funny meeting with a talent agent (Harriet Samson Harris, who’s very good), and there’s this amazing sequence with Alana driving a truck backwards down a winding road.

There are definitely better conceived, better realized coming of age film than this one, like “Almost Famous” that’s definitely much more involving in telling Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical story as a young reporter.

“Licorice Pizza” is too episodic and looks more like a personal film of nostalgia for the director. It’s like a collection of set pieces and vignettes, some of which work and most of which do not. 

There’s a sequence where Alana accompanies Gary to New York with other child stars to do a guest appearance in a show to promote their movie with Lucy (Christine Ebersole, channeling in Lucille Ball.)

For a while, the movie drops Gary and follows another teen actor, Lance (Skyler Gisondo), who succeeds in stealing Alana from him. 

Alana invites him to have dinner with her very Jewish family and he manages to offend her parents when he announces he is an atheist who doesn’t believe in God with all the suffering in the world. 

Alana then tries to help in the campaign of a political candidate, Joel Wachs (Benny Safdie), but gets disillusioned when she finds out he’s gay and he even asks her to help cover up for him. 

Alana and Gary argue a lot, but in the end, she tells him she loves him, never mind if he’s only a minor at 15 and she’s 10 years older.

For those familiar with the songs of the 70s, we’re sure they’ll enjoy the sound track that has songs from The Doors, Sonny & Cher, Nina Simone, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Blood Sweat & Tears, etc.

Hoffman as Gary manages to capture the effervescent energy of his chatty character which is said to be based on Gary Goetzman, a child actor who really appeared in a Lucille Ball movie, put up a waterbed company and actually delivered a waterbed to Jon Peters. 

He later produced Oscar winners like “Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia”.

Alana Haim is not movie star pretty, but with her very Jewish face, she has plenty of character and really fits her role, looking like a real person, not just an actress playing a role. 

And yes, she and Hoffman do not have any winning chemistry at all.