Make The Case: Licorice Pizza

By: Hopster
March 17, 2022

licorice pizza 3 Licorice Pizza [2021]

Part 8 in our "Make the Case" series leading up to the Oscars! All week we will be expostulating how and why each of the ten Best Picture nominees have a chance at winning the top prize at the 94th Academy Awards -- no matter how likely or unlikely their chances may be. Stay tuned for our Oscars Preview next week as we gear up for the ceremony on Sunday, March 27th. As always, be aware that there will be spoilers aplenty.

The Case

'The devil is in the details' as they say. And for Paul Thomas Anderson, no detail is too small or insignificant. In fact, it's usually his keen attention for detail that showcases the full breadth of his cinematic brilliance. Every moment PTA presents on screen is so completely and thoroughly considered that the audience is allowed (and encouraged) to just sit back and relax knowing that they are in good hands. And yes, he has extremely detail-oriented hands. Some might say once-in-a-generation-type-talented hands. Very few filmmakers have a voice, an eye, and the talent that Anderson does, and his latest feature, Licorice Pizza, shows him at the peak of his powers cutting loose, having fun, and delivering one of the best films of 2021.

Set in the San Fernando Valley in 1973, Licorice Pizza is a true period piece, a nostalgia trip for a director who grew up in that very same semi-surburban area just outside of Los Angeles. This isn't the first time PTA has told a story that takes place in the Valley -- Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love all share this location, too. True-to-life figures typically ground his stories, and they are often characterized through their intense vulnerabilities and unraveling circumstances. One can only hope for some kind of bittersweet deliverance or peace of mind come journey's end. Asking for straightforward resolution is a precarious request when dealing with PTA and don't expect him to give you exactly what you want in an ending -- chances are he'll subvert your expectations regardless.

Simply put, PTA treats his characters and audience with a high level of respect and trust -- he isn't afraid to explore or revisit topics or ideas that are challenging no matter how quaint or sprawling they may be. In his latest film, he trusts his audience more than ever and respects them enough to just go along for the ride. What exactly happens in the film (narratively speaking) is not all that important. The story floats from one vignette to another. Characters are introduced and oftentimes they just disappear as the scene changes.

licorice pizza 1 Licorice Pizza [2021]

The two focal points of the movie hinge upon 15-year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and 25-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim). He acts (and wants to be) older than he really is, and she acts (and thinks she is) younger than she really is. Life is moving too fast for her and not fast enough for him. In many ways, they're a perfect pair and balance each other out. But obviously a ten-year age gap and the fact that he's a minor is more than mildly complicated. The pairing itself is a bold choice, and while for some it may just be too unreasonable and too taboo, I felt like I understood what Anderson was going for. The film is a time capsule and study on innocence -- what was innocent then isn't innocent now what's innocent now may not have been as innocent then. As a child of the 70's, PTA is more than comfortable exploring the cultural nuances of young love in all its complexity.

And PTA doesn't stop challenging himself there. This film is chock-full of ideas (some better than others, some more effective than others). Alana is a young woman meandering through a world dominanted by corrupted, perverted, despicable men . Sean Penn, Tom Waits, John Michael Higgins, and of course, the absolutely unhinged Bradley Cooper are all men in positions of power that act with no regard for those around them and exploit their privlege at every turn -- ranging from mildly gross to morally abhorrent. Amidst all the toxicity that Alana has to navigate, she finds some reprieve from this in Gary. And on the flip side, he finds a future in her, a life that is better when they're moving in the same direction. And things are in constant motion through the entire film -- whether its the camera or Alana in Gary, the frenetic movement and tracking and panning and zooming and sprinting underscores the sort of energy that exists in youthfulness, the sort of passion that comes with falling in love.

licorice pizza 2 Licorice Pizza [2021]

What sets Licorice Pizza apart from almost everything else in Anderson's filmography are the vibes. And let just say, the vibes are truly indelible. Everything here is as smooth and laid back as the 70's soft rock humming along in the background. Pitch-perfect needle drops, immaculate staging, pacing and camerawork, and unbelievable performances from the entire cast has turned this into a critical darling. While Licorice Pizza didn't rack up as many nominations as some of the other films nominated for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards, it was recognized in some of the Oscar's most presitigious categories including:

  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Best Director
  • Best Picture

The fact that Anderson has yet to win an Academy Award is not only baffling, it's egregious. While it does seem like he will be in the hunt for Best Original Screenplay at this year's ceremony, I'm not sure it will be his year on the Best Picture front. Now maybe this isn't the best film of the year and shouldn't be the one he wins for, right? I don't see a world where he just stops making great films, but you never know how many more of these he's got left in him -- the notion of him going his whole career Oscar-less is a sin and an unforgivable sin at that. Let's hope that changes sooner than later. All I know is that if the devil is in fact in the details, then PTA must be Satan himself; and if that's the case, then I'll see you in Hell.

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