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Retro romance “Licorice Pizza” is great at sweetening its creepiness

Retro romance “Licorice Pizza” is great at sweetening its creepiness

Once again, the nostalgic nonchalance of Paul Thomas Anderson’s revisionist romancing is lifted up by a stellar ensemble cast, mingling fresh and well-established talent. This casting clue somewhat mirrors the on-screen pairing of 15-year old child actor Gary Valentine (Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son Cooper) and the one decade older Alana Kane (Haim front woman Alana Haim who’s real-life sisters and band members play versions of themselves). While the rocky romance of the charming main characters seems nothing but sweet and inherently innocent, its part of the films dark underbelly of queasy sexual politics and casual conservatism.

The sentimental yearning for the alternately sun- and streetlight-drenched streets of California’s San Fernando Valley of the early 70ties also comically concealed craving for an era of everyday sexual harassment, blatant racism and aggressive homophobia. The free-reigning Gary’s easy entrepreneurship makes it seem as if luck and love were just a passionate sprint away in summer nights brimming with great songs (the film’s title refers to a record store chain). But this is – if at all – only true for white straight cis boys like the protagonist who gets all his wishes fulfilled while one never even learns about Alana’s.

Her degrading job and being still stuck at home with her older sisters and watchful dad (Haim’s actual father) are never linked to structural sexism. Instead, she is constantly infantilized, especially when teasing grandfather-aged movie star Jack Holden (Sean Penn). People of color are basically absent apart from a seductive salesclerk and a cameo by Anderson’s partner Maya Rudolph. A secret gay relationship is only relevant as catalyst for straight romance. The laters creepiness is glossed over by a warm retro glow, enthralling scenery and playful whimsy, designating the fictional throwback as exuberant episodic escapism – from more progressive times.

  • OT: Licorice Pizza
  • Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Country: USA
  • Year: 2021
  • Running Time: 133 min. 
  • Cast: Will Angarola, Griff Giacchino, James Kelley, Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim, Dexter Demme, River Cornwell, Harrison Bray, Sasha Spielberg, Karissa Reynafarje, Savannah Ioakimedes, Dorie Samovitz, Anna Cordell, Adam Somner, Joshua Carl Allen, Patrick Hoelck, Christine Ebersole, Skyler Gisondo, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, Maya Rudolph, John C. Reilly, Harriet Sansom Harris, Ray Chase, Nate Mann, Emma Dumont, Ryan Heffington, Este Haim, Danielle Haim, Joseph Cross 
  • Release date: 27.01.2021
  • Image © Universal