Licorice Pizza: For Alana Haim, A Star is Born

Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman in Licorice Pizza. Photo by Paul Thomas Anderson. © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Alana Haim is already known for her abilities as a musician but when it comes to acting, she becomes an immediate star in Licorice Pizza.

The new film, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is opening in very limited theaters on November 26. It’ll be a few more weeks before the film will be shown before a wider audience. The platform release is something that seems to have gone away during the pandemic. However, this film is apparently sticking with a platform release.

Basically, the film is about Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman). Even though both are from the San Fernando Valley, Alana and Gary never met before. They only meet for the first time on picture-taking day at Gary’s school. Mind you, Gary comes off as being mature for his high school age, probably because of being a child actor. It’s 1973 and Anderson focuses in on their falling in love. At first, it doesn’t feel like a love story because Alana keeps shrugging Gary off. Eventually, she comes to and they start hanging out more. Licorice Pizza does feel like it plays along some of the typical rom-com beats even though it’s more or less a drama.

Everything changes when Alana agrees to join Gary on a trip to New York as a chaperone. They both have moments of crisis so to speak upon returning to California. Alana joins Gary in his newfound business selling waterbeds, Fat Bernie’s Waterbed Company. But when Gary decides to get into the pinball business, their relationship appears to sour.

Even though this film is fictional, Anderson draws on actual people for some of the characters. Gary Goetzman, William Holden, and Lucille Ball, for instance. While Goetzman inspires Gary Valentine, I don’t believe he had a relationship with an older woman. I think this is something that Anderson solely makes up for the film. Bradley Cooper portrays Jon Peters, the producer and a former Sony Pictures executive. Anderson does take some dramatic liberties when it comes to Peters and his on-screen behavior. Meanwhile, Alana impresses Sean Penn’s Jack Holden before Holden attempts to pull off a student motorcycle stunt. Said stunt doesn’t happen if not for Rex Blau (Tom Waits). Things get political, so to speak, when Alana volunteers for Joel Wachs’s mayoral race. Wachs and Peters are among the few real people in the film.

No moment in the film could be more stressful than the moment when the truck runs out of gas. You never want to be in this situation especially on a steep road much less going in reverse. And yet, they somehow manage to pull it off!

This is at least the second film depicting an older person in a relationship with someone below the age of consent. Hoffman might be 16-17 while filming but his character is 15 even if it’s a rather mature 15. For what it’s worth, the film is set during 1973 so maybe this is what went back then but I don’t know. I should note that the age difference is much closer in this film so it doesn’t quite feel like it’s gross. In the other film, person A is closer to 50 while person B is a few weeks away from turning 18. This doesn’t make it any less right. However, it would not be surprising if people find themselves sitting uncomfortably because of this.

There is a scene at a restaurant that has no business being in the film. Even if it’s staying true to the time period as Anderson suggests, it doesn’t make the scene any less racist. Personally, I didn’t laugh at all because it’s a cringe-worthy scene especially with John Michael Higgins’s character speaking with an Asian accent.

I’ll get to Alana Haim’s star-making performance shortly but let’s talk about the design work. This film goes above and beyond in recreating the era. Mind you, I’m not a native of San Fernando Valley but I know a 1970s vibe when I see it. This film pulls it off in the production design, costumes, and in the hair and makeup department. Hair and makeup is a pretty big deal in this era–if you can’t at least pull that off, you’re doing something wrong. Thankfully, Licorice Pizza gets it right.

Say what you will about the age differences in the relationship but Licorice Pizza is going to make Alana Haim into a star of the screen. Take a musician outside of the recording studio and it’s hard to know if they have any acting skills. Shooting a music video isn’t quite the same because let’s face it, you’re either singing live or you’re lip synching. But in this film, Alana Haim is the real deal!

CAST: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie

United Artist Releasing releases Licorice Pizza in theaters on November 26, 2021 with a wide release starting on December 25, 2021.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.