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Licorice Pizza – Movie Review: Why the hell was this made?

Let me say right off the top, I hated this movie. Not because it was poorly made but because it is poorly conceived. The premise of Licorice Pizza is absurd and creepy. It’s a coming “of age” romantic comedy in which a 15-year old boy and a 25-year old grown ass woman fall in love. The entire experience of the film was uncomfortable, the movie doesn’t view the age gap critically in any way whatsoever, and the age gap does nothing to change the story or the message of the film. It’s exactly the same movie if the boy is 20 instead of 15. There is no discernible reason for this film to exist and I’m honestly startled and confused by the positive reception it has gotten. I’ve seen it called a masterpiece and one of the best movies of the year by other critics, it’s gotten a ton of awards nominations and will probably get several more at the Oscars. The only response to Licorice Pizza’s acclaim I’ve been able to muster to this point is “…HOW???”

Typically I give movies a letter grade A+ through F, but it’s hard to do that for this film. I write all of my reviews trying to answer the question “is this worth people going to see in a movie theater?” but my own disgust with this movie seems so far detached from other people’s actual experience seeing it that I don’t know how to answer that either. How do you grade an assignment that you believe shouldn’t even exist but everyone else seems to think is the best thing ever? I don’t know. But they haven’t taken away my WordPress log in yet so I get to write all my thoughts out anyway. Let’s chat, weirdos.


So, why the hell are people excited about this movie?

If you’ve been to the movie theater at just about any point in the last 3 months, you’ve probably seen the trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film Licorice Pizza. I’m at the movies a lot, and I’ve seen that trailer no less than 20 times. The 2-minute teaser is somewhat compelling but not in any particularly original or distinctive way. David Bowie’s Life on Mars builds in the background as you see a rather generic looking boy, Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman), and a generic but better looking girl, Alana Haim of the band Haim, flirting with each other. The music stops and Bradley Cooper (the GAWD) pops on screen. Then the music resumes and you see more bland coming of age romantic comedy bits including Haim saying “do you really want to see my boobs?” and then slapping the boy when he asks to touch them. All of it tells you very little about what makes this movie different from any other movie like it. The only distinguishing thing about it being that it’s written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and the cast features big names. Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Benny Safdie and Maya Rudolph all appear.

Since the 1990s PTA has put out a slew of acclaimed films like Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Master and Phantom Thread. Anderson has 8 Oscar nominations so far including directing 2 Best Picture nominees. Additionally, there have been 9 acting performances in PTA films nominated. And with the glowing reception of Licorice Pizza there’s likely to be at least a couple more nominations added to that list. And even though Paul Thomas Anderson has never made a blockbuster hit at the box office, he’s built up a dedicated cult following amongst some movie nerds (not me though, I don’t really stan for any Directors).

All of this context is important for Licorice Pizza. Most people have no clue what it’s about. But Paul Thomas Anderson made it, there’s actors in it they want to see, and it’s been getting rave reviews. So the hype is insane. I went to an advanced screening of the movie here in Houston, the only showing of the movie here before it officially releases nationwide on Christmas Eve, and the theater was packed wall to wall. People were literally sitting on the floor in the aisles down front.

Why the hell did Paul Thomas Anderson make this movie?

I sat in the theater extremely uncomfortable throughout the film. Parts of it were very funny and entertaining, until you remember that what you’re watching is a crime against a minor played like it’s some sort of inspiring love story. The movie itself is hardly skeptical about the situation at all. Alana, the 25-year old female lead who should soon be a registered sex offender, mentions a couple times that it’s “weird” that she hangs out with a 15-year old and his friends all the time, but that never stops her from doing it. Obviously the 15-year old – again, 3 years away from being old enough to legally consent – is all-in on the romance. There’s no outside pressure on the “couple” from reasonable people for them to go their separate ways or for Alana to go to prison. Everyone who knows about their “relationship” is fully in support. The movie ends with what is supposed to be a happy, triumphant moment where they live happily ever after. I kept waiting and waiting for the moment someone, ANYONE other than me realized this was fucking awful. But that moment never came. The movie ends on a “good for them!” moment. I was disgusted when the credits rolled and had to immediately ask the @1TakePod group chat “why the hell does that movie exist???”

So why did PTA make this movie? What was the reason that he decided it was a good idea to make a movie about statutory rape that treats this sexual predation like it’s some neat and cool part of being a kid and growing up? I looked it up after I saw the movie. Apparently the official answer is that back in 2001, Paul Thomas Anderson walked past a middle school on picture day where he saw a kid pestering one of the female photographers. The gears in a very twisted mind began to turn and PTA imagined the young boy he just saw having a relationship with that adult woman. PTA over time added some stories he had heard from a friend who was a former child actor and that’s how Licorice Pizza came in to being. I should have known about this weird shit before seeing the movie. That’s on me.

Why the hell do people like this movie so much?

Like I mentioned at the top, nothing that is entertaining or worthwhile about this movie changes in any way if this is a legal relationship between a 20-year old and a 25-year old. Hell, this could be two people who are the same age and it’s the same movie. But I’m not sure if that’d actually be a good movie.

Nearly everything that’s funny, and as uncomfortable as it was parts of it are undeniably hilarious, has nothing to do with the age gap and very little to do with the main plot. Bradley Cooper’s bit role as Jon Peters is the best part of the film and it has almost nothing to do with advancing the story. There’s a bunch of subplots where Gary starts a waterbed business and a pinball arcade, they help do PR for a Japanese restaurant owned by John Michael Higgins, they help out on a Mayoral campaign for Benny Safdie, they’re at a bar where Sean Penn does a motorcycle stunt, etc. Some work better than others. But all these vignettes are discarded immediately once they’re over. We just focus on the next random thing this sex offender and her victim are doing.

To the film’s credit, the performances are good. Alana Haim is a revelation. She’s definitely got a future as an actor as she nailed both the comedy and the drama this role required. Cooper Hoffman is good as well but Bradley Cooper steals the show in his all too brief time on screen. I’d rather watch a Jon Peters movie starring him, honestly. Everyone else involved gives solid to great performances as well. The cinematography looks incredible, perfectly evoking the feeling of 1970s California. Parts of the script had everyone in my theater howling because the movie is very funny. Critics who love this film cite that humor, PTA’s directing, the performances, and the nostalgia. Stans are calling Licorice Pizza one of his best films (I wouldn’t know).

But for me, that’s not nearly enough to make the movie actually good. Things just *happen* in this movie with no rhyme or reason. It’s a compilation of stories that are only tangentially related to the sex crime happening at the center of the movie, and they all mean absolutely nothing. The movie isn’t teaching anything about the human condition or love or the pitfalls of life as an aspiring actor or anything like that. You’re just watching a 25-year old and a 15-year old fall in love with each other and crack jokes along the way. Sex crimes and vibes. Apparently for a lot of people who work as film critics (92% of 119 critics on Rotten Tomatoes so far) that’s enough to make a great movie.

But I’m still here wondering why the hell we did any of this.

Grade: D

For more reviews and other things, you can follow me on Twitter @DexAintDead and you can follow Apollo Media’s movie podcast @1TakePod and listen wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for reading and as always, #SupportFlorencePugh

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Paul Winston

    December 19, 2021 at 1:24 am

    If you can write and direct a better film, have at it. Criticism is easy for the marginally talented. P.T Anderson is an amazingly talented filmmaker, while you are parasite who wouldn’t exist without other people’s work as a host body.

    • Jane Somerville

      December 29, 2021 at 7:52 pm

      I just walked out of the movie today. I too, wondered why this movie was made? Stupid, contrived, Cooper Hoffman isn’t the actor his father was.. Just dumb!

    • Jane

      December 29, 2021 at 7:53 pm

      Not every movie made by a talented filmmaker is good, and this is one of them. I liked Boogie Nights but this was just awful

  2. Edward S Fireman

    December 19, 2021 at 4:07 am

    This might be one of the worst takes I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s so genuinely stupid, it hurts my head. You gave a film D because you didn’t like the age gap of a couple in the seventies. This type of thing was quite common back in those day. Do a bit of research before reviewing a film next time.

    • pann

      December 27, 2021 at 4:06 am

      Yeah, it was more common in the seventies and it was regarded as gross back then too. Most parents of that era would have raised hell if they found out their 15 year old son was getting it on with a 25 year old.

  3. Joel

    December 19, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    Lighten up. If you’re the only person having a specific reaction, probably you are the one who needs to rethink things

    • Kristina

      January 20, 2022 at 4:59 am

      This is a dangerous comment, implying that everyone should react the same or that some type reaction is better than another. If we would to extrapolate this rule in real life, we would get situations of totalitarism where a dissenting opinion means that something is wrong with the person.
      That’s where regimes as that of Hitler flourish…

  4. Rob b

    December 24, 2021 at 8:42 pm

    Why doesn’t statutory rape enter the minds of these morally repugnant ignoramus type individuals who cannot discern artistic ability from societal dysfunction. Obviously not parents of underage children.

  5. Steve Levenberg

    December 27, 2021 at 3:11 pm

    I agree that it sucked for all the reasons mentioned. Like a horribly bad imitation of Almost Famous….

  6. Jelly Donut

    December 28, 2021 at 4:17 am

    I felt the same as you, so many reasons I disliked it, and was shocked after watching to find many glowing reviews online. So thank you for writing this, I asked the same question…. why was this made?

  7. LAURA JGREENBAUM

    January 1, 2022 at 5:33 pm

    Great review and I could not agree more. I felt like I was the only one in the theater grossed out by this movie. If it had been a 25 year old man and 15 year old girl, people would be losing their sh*t. Even though they don’t actually have sex, there are constant nuances and it’s a wholly inappropriate relationship. If they had made it a 17 year old boy one month from 18 and a 23 year old woman, that would have made it less disturbing, but it still would have been pointless and mostly boring.

  8. not worth the covid risk

    January 2, 2022 at 1:02 am

    Even ignoring the whole illegal age gap thing, the series of disjointed stories comprising the rest of the movie are highly implausible. 15-year-old boy opens a waterbed store? 15-year-old boy opens a pinball arcade? Are we to believe this is just the way things were in 1973, 15-year-old serial entrepreneurs roaming the streets of LA throwing big grand opening extravaganzas for their latest ventures? How about Gary getting dragged off to jail on suspicion of murder only to be forgotten about 2 minutes later? Or Sean Penn performing a Fonzi-esque motorcycle stunt for a crowd of cheering diners who abandoned their meals to go behind the restaurant to watch him? These are supposedly stories told to PTA by his former child actor friend?? And he believed them??

  9. Wayne Hilton

    January 6, 2022 at 7:50 am

    I cannot critique the movie bc I don’t do movies. However, Hollywood has always known how to create and exploit controversy. It does sell and this in depth review thread is proof. I refuse to be influenced by the immoral trash that weaves its way into our society and it’s not only the big or little screen.

  10. Nate

    January 8, 2022 at 12:53 am

    Pretty spot on review for me. Also not sure why this was made, what it was trying to say, and the rave reviews. I was uncomfortable through most of it, and could tell by the very first exchange of unrealistic and dragged out dialogue that I was in for a rough ride. Couldn’t wait for it to be over. I do applaud the acting, costume and set design.

  11. chick wonderman

    January 13, 2022 at 11:20 pm

    Totally agree. Would also add misogynistic treatment of women. Hilarious? No. Sad.

    • Megan

      January 14, 2022 at 1:14 am

      I’m beyond grateful for this review, and all the insightful comments made after( except that one comment that was trite) anyway, I completely agree on every part, I went out of there feeling gross, and I genuinely thought it was a joke that they ended up together. I mean even if they were the same age, the relationship was built on jealousy and immaturity and when Alana finally starts to make something of herself and become a person, she just falls back on boys being the center of her attention in a weird thrown together ending. Also the unnecessary sexism (unnecessary because they don’t make it seem bad) and unnecessary racism, like if you’re trying to make a statement make a statement don’t just throw that crap in there because you think it’s funny.

  12. Tim Madera

    January 15, 2022 at 12:13 am

    Completely agreed. I wondered the whole time why it got such amazing reviews. It felt like it was trying to be absurd and failed. I could not figure out why this movie was made. There was a brief part in the beginning when I thought maybe it was about her mental illness and a slightly intrigued. But it never went anywhere interesting or unique. It really felt like this was an ’emperor has no clothes’ moment for Paul Thomas Anderson.

  13. David Smith

    January 15, 2022 at 9:29 am

    Some seriously weird comments here at the end of a seriously weird article. If you think an almost entirely chaste relationship between a teenager and a twenty something who spends two hours of the film rebuffing him constitutes a “sex crime” I would suggest you have led a very sheltered life indeed.

  14. Jessica

    January 16, 2022 at 2:00 pm

    I hated this movie

  15. Nick Platt-Higgins

    January 17, 2022 at 2:51 pm

    Hello from the UK and it’s so welcoming to see a review so at one with my utter bewilderment to all the good reviews around this film. I didn’t have an issue with the age difference and to me it was almost irrelevant. It was the complete pointlessness of the whole thing, yep the acting was on point but there was no narrative, no beginning, middle nor real end. No life affirming message to take away, nothing to dwell on, to ponder nor digest….I didn’t hate it but I certainly didn’t like it and just couldn’t see the point of it all.

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