“Licorice pizza” in theaters: we must save the teenager in us!

A few minutes of this film is enough to know: Here we see a new Hollywood star. At least that’s what 15-year-old Gary claims. He struts through the schoolyard of a high school in the sunny San Fernando Valley, somewhere in Los Angeles, and tells a young woman about his amazing successes as a film actor. The young woman doesn’t know if she should believe Gary’s stories. And it’s precisely this adult incredulity at the freedom of youthful frivolity that Paul Thomas Anderson’s wonderful new film "Licorice Pizza" is about.

Gary Valentine dares to do anything. Not only does he dare to envision his upcoming movie career out loud in the schoolyard, but he also dares to tell all this to a woman whose age might be far beyond his adolescent reach. Alana is in her mid-20s and only in high school because she assists the school photographer in taking class photos. The last thing she might have expected is something viewers have long since realized: There really is something irresistible about Gary.

How far Hollywood can be from LA

It’s not the baby fat on his face, nor his cheeks glowing with joy, that make him so attractive. Nor is it Gary’s red hair, which he shapes into a hairstyle that even in the 70s, in which the film is set, already has something old-man about it. No, it’s something else that quickly turns Gary into an attraction: his unstoppable zeal, his unshakable belief that life will hold many good things in store for him – no matter how stupid he sometimes acts.

The ten years Alana has ahead of him in life experience must have been peppered with one setback or another, as we all know them to be. They are the years when we go from child to adult. Alana, however, at least doesn’t feel too grown up to not accompany Gary on a date after all. Already the two are sitting in one of LA’s hottest restaurants, a place where you might even meet stars. That’s the second big theme of "Licorice Pizza": how far away Hollywood can be, even when you’re squatting with glowing cheeks in the middle of Los Angeles.

"Licorice Pizza" in the cinema with Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim

© 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Time of innocence, time of upheaval

What follows after the date between the 15-year-old and his beloved is not a love story in the classic sense, but the completely absurd journey of a weird duo through the ups and downs of the San Fernando Valley in the 70s. How golden California shines here!

Director Paul Thomas Anderson, whose 1997 debut feature "Boogie Nights" had already evoked the area’s porn industry to a golden era, casually probes the upheavals facing the old studios with their old stars at the time with "Licorice Pizza". They had to make room for the "New Hollywood" at the time: new films, different faces, engaging themes and intellectual directors.

"Licorice Pizza" in the cinema with Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman

© 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Bradley Cooper makes the guest appearance of his life

One of the faces of the "New Hollywood" era was Barbra Streisand. She’s not yet famous enough in Gary’s world to pronounce her name correctly, though, which sets the stage for a sensational scene. After Gary doesn’t get on as well as Alana promised as an actor, he builds up a waterbed business from scratch. Together with Alana and a few friends, he has to set up one of the new-fangled beds in Barbra Streisand’s mansion and fill it with water – after a rather strict briefing by Streisand’s lover, Jon Peters, who is feared for his womanizing and partying, and who still generates headlines today, for instance two years ago when he claimed – for whatever reason – to have married Pamela Anderson, who denied the marriage.

In any case, Jon Peters, played with outstanding comedy by Bradley Cooper, welcomes Gary to the waterbed installation with a verbal boot camp on how to correctly pronounce the name of his wife Barbra Streisand. Gary and Alana don’t take this humiliation lying down, which could go down in history as the best guest appearance of Bradley Cooper’s career. For the viewer, it’s one of the many jokes the film takes us into almost aimlessly.

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