However, he’s exciting in his unpredictability: his films never play it safe, the latest often different from the last. Nowadays, a curious unease settles when sitting down for a new PTA. Will it be a work of genius or another drearily disappointing experience?
Licorice Pizza intrigues because it falls right in the middle. As well as leaping back to the 1970s, Anderson’s new film harks back to the loose, funny, and characterful movies that made him famous. The story follows the strange relationship between the 25-year-old photographer’s assistant Alana (Alana Haim, from HAIM fame) and 15-year-old Gary (Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour) in a sun-kissed Los Angeles in 1973.
The opening scene irritates immediately, that curious unease rising again. Alana meets Gary at his school’s photo day, and she’s instantly engrossed by his very persistent, very adolescent flirtations. It’s a snappily written back-and-forth, resembling the screwball comedies of old Hollywood. Despite its quality, the dialogue is difficult to believe – playing out like the ridiculous, romantic fantasies of a straight teenage boy.
But their chemistry – friendly and smitten and only slightly sexual – is instant. The floating visuals by Anderson and co-cinematographer Michael Bauman pull you into Gary and Alana's dynamic. As they get to know each other and you get to know them, the nature of their relationship turns into a fascinating character study. Even they’re not entirely sure what it is.
Their contrasts attract them to each other. Gary’s mature for his age, charming, drifting between silly acting jobs and selling waterbeds. Alana still acts like a child in constant defence mode, not ready to grow up, infectiously wayward. Her spiky insults, her intolerance of pretty much everyone, and her talent to play sexy on cue – coaxing old misogynists, like the slimy veteran actor played by Sean Penn – grow into constant joys.
Haim gives an endlessly unpredictable and absorbing performance, with a face as fascinating as her gestures. In one scene, she sticks her tongue out – simultaneously encapsulating Alana's childishness and mature understanding. It's a unique and perfect shot.
Bradley Cooper (left) stars as Jon, Barbra Streisand's boyfriend. Photo: EPK/MGM
After half an hour of excruciating jokes, the film eventually finds its funny side. It reaches a comedic zenith with the appearance of Bradley Cooper, playing Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend Jon. He dresses all in white, resembling Ben Stiller’s cartoonish gym villain in the 2004 studio comedy Dodgeball, with a similarly stupid and nauseating flair. You wish Cooper had a bigger part to play; it's great to see him in these kinds of roles after turning into more of a serious actor (Guardians of the Galaxy aside).
Licorice Pizza proceeds in a liberated style, driving through several LA stories that are tied together by the alluring central relationship. The romantic ambiguity is annoyingly broken at the end in a sudden and anticlimactic conclusion, inspiring little more than a mediocre shrug. There are enough laughs and the energy rarely dwindles, but this film still can't compare to the cinematic gems in Anderson’s past. Still, with some more curious unease, this critic looks forward to his next effort.
Licorice Pizza will be in UK cinemas on Saturday 1 January.
|What||Licorice Pizza review|
01 Jan 22 – 01 Jan 23, IN CINEMAS
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|