I wanna start this off by saying I have never been a “huge” fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work. I think Magnolia is great, Inherent Vice is good, and Boogie Nights is fine, and outside of that I don’t really enjoy his work. So when I went to the press screening of Licorice Pizza this past December, I was expecting another “meh” styled film from him and nothing else. Instead, I found my all time favorite PTA film, his absolute masterpiece, and my favorite film of 2021, and here’s why I think it should win Best Picture at the 2022 Academy Awards.
I love that the 70s is more than that mid-00s TV show. To me, it’s legitimately a feeling I have of the pop culture at that time. It’s my all time favorite decade of American film, it has some of the most wildly entertaining fashions, and important movements, such as women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights, are in full swing. Despite being born 22 years from the beginning of the decade, I have an all time appreciation of it. So, set a movie in the 70s and you’ve got me hooked right off the bat. Give me such a detailed and really well thought out coming-of-age story about when childhood ends and when we’re just supposed to start being an adult and I am sold, and that is why I love this movie. From the first frame, PTA is unfolding a moment in time. The film is relatable both to PTA due to the time frame of the movie, as well as someone like myself born in 1992. The viewer is able to understand the type of story he is trying to portray here because we’ve all gone through it, the moment in our adult life where we are faced with the ultimate question of “when am I supposed to grow up”?
That is the question asked by Alana, our main character played by Alana Haim (a Golden Globe and BAFTA recognized performance for Lead Actress who really should be the frontrunner for the Oscar had she been nominated). Alana is faced with the question early on when she meets 15-year-old Gary( Cooper Hoffman), who is still in high school and falls for Alana as his first major crush. Alana is then left hanging out with Gary and his friends while constantly asking herself and others if hanging out with high school kids is lame, all while dodging Gary’s advances to turn their relationship from friends into more. Alana and Gary are constantly together to the point where Alana rebels from the friendship to seek another age range of older men to be around, onlyto find out that she doesn’t like adulthood either and is much more comfortable allowing herself to just enjoy the current state of life she’s in. It’s an absolutely relatable tale of finding one’s worth and self in a confusing time between growing up for real and growing up too much.
Now, this movie has brought up some controversy, with several issues being brought up such as the age of the protagonists and with some off color jokes aimed at Asian people. The situation was heavily discussed on Twitter since the film expanded in cinemas. In a world where many films find scrutiny under a PC lens this was a film that felt the same while opening up valid discussions for those who felt offended as well as those who interpreted the material differently. While I believe that people’s feelings are valid about these concerns, given the setting and time of the film I do not personally believe that PTA is being racist here . The language and actions of John Michael Higgins’ character are repellant, but I think that is the point. It is supposed to be an uncomfortable moment for you as a viewer because of the disturbing language of the time. I do not think that PTA using the language of the time here makes him racist. I compare it to Norman Lear using the language of the time regarding the LGBTQ+ community on All in the Family, and I do not think that makes him homophobic, either. The sensitive issue of the age gap in Licorice Pizza never really connected with me. Not once in the film does Alana ever make the move toward Gary, in fact, she turns him down numerous times. When she does flash her breasts to him, it’s because he’s constantly badgering her and she slaps him when he goes further. The ending where she “falls in love” with him to me personally represents her refusal to let go of being young. It’s a metaphor of what I mentioned above, what the whole point of the story is – choosing when to grow up.
With all of that out of the way, this is the piece de resistance of Paul Thomas Anderson that should absolutely win Best Picture, a win that I would champion from here until the end of time.