Review: Licorice Pizza sizzles at Auckland film festival

Source: 1News

A new film festival kicked off this week with the local premiere of films from overseas directors Guillermo del Toro and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Publicity shot for the Licorice Pizza film.

In The Shade is a new film festival that promises to be an “oasis of cool cinema” for Aucklanders amid a long-overdue summer.

I was unable to attend the opening night premiere of Nightmare Alley, the latest from Academy Award winner Guillermo del Toro, but I wasn’t going to miss Licorice Pizza.

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film stars two first-time actors: Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Set in 1973, the film paints a portrait of the San Fernando Valley with a cast filled out with a collection of bit parts for actors like Bradley Cooper, Tom Waits and Sean Penn.

The film’s plot is centred around a somewhat problematic relationship between 25-year-old Alana, played by Haim, and 15-year-old Gary, played by Hoffman.

Licorice Pizza is what Quentin Tarantino calls a hangout film – a movie where it’s less about what happens to the characters and more about you as an audience member spending time with them.

As an avid fan of the genre, who calls Paul Thomas Anderson one of his favourite directors, that meant this film was practically made for me.

If you like films like Dazed and Confused, American Graffiti or the first three-quarters of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, then maybe it’s for you too.

It would be easy to call this a coming-of-age film, but it’s much more than that.

What starts as a tale of a teenager trying to woo a woman 10 years his senior becomes a story of one party desperately trying to grow up, and another facing the reality of what growing up actually means.

A lot has been said online about the romance plot between the two leads, labelling the film creepy or complaining about the pair’s unlikability, but I found them uncomfortably relatable – in a good way.

At the risk of sounding insulting, Haim and Cooper don’t look like traditional movie stars, but that’s one of the film's greatest strengths. The two give Oscar-worthy debut performances in showing us the parts of youth we probably wish we didn’t connect with so much.

In a lesser filmmaker’s hands, this film would not work, but Anderson is a master of his craft. The cinematography, especially, does an incredible job of evoking the feeling of 1970s Los Angeles with the film purposefully shot in that era’s style.

The way Anderson can dance from scene to scene, often without a clear through-narrative, is something few directors can pull off.

A lot of the film appears to just happen, but I could say the same thing about life.

Licorice Pizza is playing in select cinemas from January 27 and the In The Shade film festival will continue at The Hollywood Avondale and Academy Cinemas until February 2.

A list of films playing is available here.