Film review: Licorice Pizza

Starring Cooper Hoffman, son of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Thomas Anderson’s coming-of-age drama tells the story of a fast-talking teen with a crush on a woman in her mid-20s. Review by Alistair Harkness

Licorice Pizza

Licorice Pizza (15) *****

Set on the fringes of LA’s entertainment industry circa 1973, Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film since Phantom Thread is a freewheeling coming-of-age comedy drama that serves up a wondrous meditation on first love, obsession and the hucksterism of adolescence.

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Eschewing nostalgia for something a little more truthful, the film takes shape around a 15-year-old high school student and the 25-year-old photographer’s assistant he becomes fixated on. The former is the wonderfully named Gary Valentine, a fast-talking teen with some child-acting credits to his name and an unerring belief that he’s the centre of the universe (he’s played with extraordinary confidence by Cooper Hoffman, son of Anderson’s late, great collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman).

When he meets Alanah (a star-making turn from musician Alanah Haim), he knows in an instant that he want to be in her orbit too and makes a relentless play for her affections, despite her very clear insistence as woman in her mid-20s that she has no interest in a dating a high school kid. But there is something intriguing about Gary; in some respects he’s more grown-up than her and Anderson gradually makes Alanah the subject of the film’s coming-of-age narrative while focusing in turn on how Gary has to negotiate that early moment in a precocious kid’s life where the person you’re going to be really starts taking root.

It’s a precarious moment too, as evidenced by the childish adults whose maladjusted lives keep intersecting with Gary and Alanah (Bradley Cooper is on magnificently odious form here as Barbara Streisand’s boyfriend and future film producer Jon Peters). Shot through with the restless energy of its protagonists, the film also exposes the fake veneer of Hollywood by framing their irregular faces in beautiful close-ups. Sean Penn co-stars.

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