Licorice Pizza [Grade: 70%]

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Story By: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Cooper Hoffman & Alana Haim

* * *

I was never interested in seeing this film, but I make sure to try and see as many “award discussion” films as I can. This film was getting so many rave reviews before its release that I naturally put it on the docket…what I walked away feeling was such disappointment, concern/alarm in regards to film celebration—especially white film celebration. 

* * *

Below are my grades for key components in #LicoricePizza that I find to be key in any story/film/series—Theme, Plot, Pacing, and Character (pertaining to arc/development &/or delivery). FYI: My A=95, A- =90, B=85, B-=80…etc. My D- =60 and my F=50

Additionally, I have added an entertainment factor scale to help you determine whether or not the film is something you’d be interested in taking time out of your weekend, evening, or day to watch. The scale range consists of: Worth the Watch/$$$, Interesting Enough (if looking for something new to start, OR experience is intentionally relevant to the genre and executed well–nothing more), Wait for Streaming, Don’t Rush, & Don’t Watch.

I have also added a few non-spoiling thoughts, wonderings, and comments as I watched the film to help give some rationale for my grades and entertainment scale.

* * *

Theme: C

Plot & Story: D

Pacing: C

Character: D

* * *

Entertainment Factors

General Public: Don’t Watch

Film Enthusiasts: Don’t Watch

Experience Seekers (via Visuals & Score): Don’t Watch

Drama / Comedy Fans: Interesting Enough

* * *

TAKEAWAYS:

1. I honestly struggled a little with interpreting a message for this film, but when following the characters and adding in a possible idea for the title (being a reference to a vinyl record), I walked away with a possible theme about things coming full circle / just staying the course, letting things play out and watch it all come full circle with “love” and “passions” being the goal, and also about the natural toxic cycles of “young love” that can feel like a broken record…

However, it’s uncomfortable to even think about that theme when we are talking about a 15 and 25-year old. 

Act One kicks the theme off with this young, seemingly cute and typical lusting by a teenager for this woman, and him pretty much applying the pressure of getting to know her, and HER curving him, but not quite… 

Acts 2 and 3 carry out the theme pretty decently, showing how these 2 characters keep finding their way back to one another, similar to the broken record…it’s like the needle is lifted but the vinyl always returns back to the scratch. There’s a lapse of the characters running in Act 3 that pretty much cements the idea of this return/full circle.  

The issue, which oddly is a good thing for the sake of the age gap in the story, is that throughout these Acts there really isn’t a very explicit showing of these 2 as romantic interests constantly falling in and out of a relationship. I mean, it’s “obvious” because of how well Act One sets that tone in motion—so you’re aware of the teenager’s feelings, and also the woman’s response is usually off and on due to being pretty aware of her age—and how moments when they are apart showcase jealousy and concern from each character whenever they are with someone else of the appropriate age. But for the most part, the teenager isn’t prying as much as he was in Act One, so one could assume he isn’t really “staying the course” at all. That’s he’s given up and become content with knowing he could never be with an older woman, and just appreciates the “babysitter+” relationship they seem to have. But then Act 3 shows that was a lie (in my Maury voice). 🤦🏾‍♂️

2. I did enjoy Bradley Cooper’s cameo. It was random, but his performance was wild and fun. 👍🏾

3. Skyler Gisondo has a very nice, classic 70s looking face. 👍🏾😍

4. So there’s a few things about the characters that just didn’t work well. But first, I want to start with 2 positives. 1. Most of the big name cameos were really great performances—that I will give this film; 2. Alana Haim also gave a solid performance.

Outside of that, the pacing was so bad that I couldn’t really get a grasp of who Gary and Alana were. Why Alana found what she was doing “okay…” Why Gary was never in school. How was he never in school. Where he was getting the means to do all of these ventures? There was just so much left unknown about this teenager hanging with this grown ass woman on a daily basis. And I think the film wanted to have this Napoleon Dynamite charm with the different situations brought about by the opportunities (like meeting Jon Peters), but for me, it was difficult to sit with and believe when he’s 15 hanging with a 25 year old and never in school… So the characters just felt like randomly placed pawns to carry out ideas for different scenes. 

And the character Jerry Frick… … I wasn’t “uncomfortable” about him more than I was shocked that the idea was even written and green lit. I think what saves him is the scene where he admits not speaking the language which is why the blame is at the writing.🤦🏾‍♂️👎🏾

5. In addition to Bradley Cooper, I also enjoyed Sean Penn’s cameo. 👍🏾

6. I swear…the trend of adding a gay is annoying…it’s bad enough the story is so choppy, and then you throw him in there… 🤦🏾‍♂️

7. As alluded to with my comment about the characters, pacing was a mess. Moments moved SO fast and yet the film felt extremely long and time in the story felt that no more than a few months had passed from beginning to end, which also feels like such a problem.

The biggest issues for me when it comes to pacing has to do with Gary. He started as a student (a freshman or sophomore due to the age) who was an extra in tv??, then suddenly doing expos…having a legit store…meeting celebs…smoking cigarettes…working on political campaigns…opening other businesses… like, WHAT!? What is happening? Where is this film trying to go? 

And it was clear that the film was leaning on the cameo performances to at least keep audience interest, but that wasn’t enough for me. 🤦🏾‍♂️

8. Oooo, Hey Nate Mann… #ThatsBae😍

9. She drove that truck, though. 😂

10. Licorice Pizza tells the story of a hustling teenager in love with a woman who is a decade+ his age, who seems to be trying to add excitement and opportunity to her life in the midst of their cultivating relationship.

Unfortunately, the story lacks cohesion because there really isn’t a true starting point for either of these characters’ motivations. Additionally, the story has an air of juvenile mundanity, but one of the characters isn’t a juvenile, one; and two, is clearly a love interest. It borders on “grooming…” to be quite honest. 

Personally, had this story either focused on 2 college freshman, 2 high schoolers, or just a group of children ranging from 7/8th grade to 9/10th grade, there could’ve been something more interesting and solid with this story idea…Paul Thomas Anderson missed the mark with something in this story telling… it was truly off. It felt like leftover ideas from Boogie Nights or something… 🤦🏾‍♂️

* * *

Overall #LicoricePizza gives Boogie Nights (minus the porn and drugs) – meets That 70s Show – meets The Crush – meets the relationship between Jenny and Forrest Gump.

I don’t think I can quite describe the level of disappointment I have for the industry, not necessarily the film. The film is a Paul Thomas Anderson’s vision, and he has a right to paint that vision how he sees fit. My disappointment, and I’ve said this before in terms of whyt people in this elite, “Academy” club, is that somehow Paul Thomas Anderson has such membership status in this club that a film like Licorice Pizza can be touted as something truly profound. Everything about this film and the response SAYS there is a problem with who is setting the tone for film standards. Like, what was so great about what this film did? What this story did? Seriously?

And HAD THIS FILM actually figured out a way to try and paint a picture of ways America has shown stupidity (because that was one of my first thoughts of a theme as I watched midway through—and I am not saying this to be funny because I genuinely thought it was taking a clever approach in that direction—hoping that Act 3 would shift in that very direction to give the film more promise) through the lens of a love story, I could’ve bought it. 

But no. It didn’t do that.

This film should’ve gone under the radar, and been an Amazon Prime release like Coming 2 America… but it’s rare that whyt stories get get this type of treatment—even with A-List celebrities. It’s actually quite interesting how many A-List Black actors/actresses have been in Black films that just naturally go under the radar, or are just celebrated internally by Black people (like Tyler Perry films) vs whyt films (unless they’re true schtick comedies, horror, or psychological thrillers…). It seems that every whyt film that has an A-list actor will ALWAYS be given praise-worthy treatment and PR as if every project they do is top-tier quality… 

Also, SN: The humor is very much whyt humor; and not a universal whyt humor, but more of an inside-joke, privileged, dry yet loud and outlandish type of whyt humor which is why the “drama-comedy” category is “Interesting Enough” if that is something you’re into and actually get/find funny.

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