[Screen It]


(2021) (Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim) (R)

Read Our Full Content Movie Review for Parents

Dramedy: A mature 15-year-old child actor and enterprising entrepreneur finds himself attracted to a 25-year-old woman, resulting in an unusual friendship, business arrangement and possible romance.

It's 1973 and Gary Valentine (COOPER HOFFMAN) is a 15-year-old high school student, professional actor, and serial entrepreneur. When he spots Alana Kane (ALANA HAIM) during a yearbook photo session, he's instantly smitten, but the 25-year-old thinks he's full of himself, albeit with some degree of charm.

Jumping at whatever he thinks will be the next big business opportunity, Gary convinces Alana to join him in creating a waterbed company, while also trying to get her into the acting business which leads to an audition and night out with legendary actor Jack Holden (SEAN PENN).

As their friendship and business partnership grows and Gary still longs for something more, they have their share of ups and downs and interesting encounters, be that with volatile Hollywood producer Jon Peters (BRADLEY COOPER) or councilman Joel Wachs (BENNY SAFDIE) who's running for mayor.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10

I've had some interesting experiences in my life -- meeting Hollywood celebrities, being featured in national publications, and, in an earlier job, I was even in the cabinet room with the President, Vice-President and entire cabinet -- but none of that would come together as the basis for a movie anyone outside my family and friends would want to see.

Compare that to a former coworker who was "drafted" into the Vietnamese army at the age of 14 after the fall of Saigon, fought in trench warfare, went AWOL, was in charge of his younger siblings as they took off in a tiny boat for better shores only to encounter two typhoons and a Soviet freighter, and lived on the streets of Hong Kong for a year before being adopted by the head of the USTA and then sitting in box seats with Brooke Shields watching Andre Agassi play in the U.S. Open. Now that's a life that would make a great movie.

Of course, not all life stories need to be quite so dramatic -- or repeatedly perilous -- to serve as fodder for a film. But they do have to be interesting enough to fit the bill and that was the case when filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson heard his friend Gary Goetzman talk of his time growing up. Not only was he a child actor (appearing in the Lucille Ball movie "Yours, Mine and Ours"), but he also had a waterbed business before he was an adult.

That coupled with once upon a time viewing a different teen trying to hit on a young woman at least a decade older than him and obviously out of his league serves as the fuel for Anderson's ninth film, "Licorice Pizza." Named after a record store that once existed in the San Fernando Valley where he grew up, the film is the writer/director's love letter of sorts to that area, era (the 1970s), and the potential of cross decade love at an age where that makes a difference, say, compared to those aged a decade apart in their thirties and forties.

The result is a flick where fact is stranger than fiction rules and, after my second viewing, is one of my favorite cinematic offerings of 2021. Of course, that shouldn't come as a surprise considering that Anderson has also helmed highly rated films such as "There Will Be Blood," "Magnolia" and "Boogie Nights."

Like that latter offering and its cautionary tale about the porn industry, the filmmaker is using fairly less scandalous but nevertheless still controversial subject matter (a 25-year-old woman even considering a romance with a nearly 16-year-old boy) to fuel his story that plays out over 130-some minutes. But rather than feel icky or troubling, it comes off as sweet and endearing, mainly because the actual potential romance doesn't even begin to bloom until the very last shot, and even then it's not a sure thing anything will happen.

Until then, Gary the boy -- who thinks and acts far older than his age and is played by Cooper Hoffman, who's terrific, but not really a surprise considering he's the son of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman -- and Alana, the young woman -- who's yet to find herself in the world and still lives with her parents and sisters and is played by Alana Haim, making her feature debut and knocking it out of the park -- interact where he's smitten with her and she sort of humors him while intrigued by his maturity.

That leads to a friendship that has its ups and downs and interesting developments (they start a waterbed company together) and interactions with various famous people (Sean Penn playing famous actor Jack -- rather than William -- Holden; Benny Safdie playing mayoral candidate Joel Wachs, and Bradley Cooper playing Barbara Streisand's boyfriend, Hollywood producer Jon Peters in a scene-stealing extended cameo).

As is the case with Anderson's previous offerings, he gets great performances from his actors (especially those two newbies), the script and dialogue are great, and some moments are truly special. In one scene after Alana falls off the back of the borrowed bike that Holden is about to use in a motorcycle jump, Gary runs to her aid, and Paul McCartney and Wings' "Let Me Roll It" begins playing on the soundtrack as a montage of the two follows and is nothing short of magical.

I love films where you want to keep following the story of the characters after the end credits roll, but are, at the same time, happy that things end when, where, and how they do. All of which lets viewers decide how everything might have played out. And that to me -- coupled with the performances, writing, direction, and early '70s vibe -- is the definition of a perfect or at least near-perfect movie. "Licorice Pizza" is just that and rates as an 8 out of 10.

Reviewed November 16, 2021 / Posted December 24, 2021

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