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Licorice Pizza is the story of Alana Kane (Alana Haim, right) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) growing up, running around and falling in love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film tracks the treacherous navigation of first love.

The hangout movie — is there anything better? 

Paul Thomas Anderson makes his Dazed and Confused, his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, his Harold and Maude — and it’s a dreamy, sunny delight. Licorice Pizza features two compelling lead performances, an immersive ‘70s atmosphere and many fun surprises (like Bradley Cooper’s hilariously larger-than-life performance as the skirt-chasing hairdresser and film producer Jon Peters).

Anderson takes us on another trip to the 1970s San Fernando Valley setting (also featured in his breakthrough Boogie Nights). He rounds up a stellar ensemble cast, including Alana Haim (of the sisterly rock trio HAIM), Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), Benny Safdie (one of the Uncut Gems directors), Skyler Gisondo (Booksmart), Mary Elizabeth Ellis (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Tom Waits, Sean Penn and many more who will have you snapping your fingers and pointing at the screen like that Leonardo DiCaprio meme.

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(L-R) Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters, Cooper Hoffman as Gary Valentine, and Alana Haim as Alana Kane.

In the film, Hoffman plays Gary Valentine, a wise-beyond-his-years teenager with a healthy dose of boyish optimism and a pinch of mischief. (Think Max Fischer in Rushmore.) When he’s not charming and impressing you with ambitious ideas, he’s stretching out the night for all its possibilities. This includes golden hour walk-and-talks (Before Sunrise style) with his crush Alana Kane (Haim), a 25-year-old photographer’s assistant who’s not having any of his game.

What follows is a lot of running around the Southern California haze, flirting and starting various businesses (like a waterbed company and a pinball arcade). But, through it all, it’s Gary and Alana’s amorphous romance at the front and center. Are they friends, lovers, or somewhere in between? Whatever it is, it’s clear that they constantly have to redraw the boundaries of their relationship.

To some, Licorice Pizza’s wheels may spin too much. It certainly doesn’t have a traditional A-to-B plot structure that features setups and payoffs. It drifts from one antic anecdote to the next. Regardless of its cyclical nature, it’s like kicking back with some old friends, reminiscing and listening to good records. (Ooh, The Doors and Paul McCartney needle drops. 👌) 

Highlights:

  • A certain cameo by someone who plays Herman Munster 😉
  • A gripping sequence when Alana backs a truck down a hill in neutral until they’re able to fill it back up with gas.
  • Bradley Cooper’s intensity and love for peanut butter sandwiches. The cherry on top is that the person he’s playing produced Barbara Streisand’s A Star is Born, which is ironic considering Cooper directed his own remake of the film.
  • The moment Tom Waits' barfly character pops up on screen.
  • The whole Haim family is in this, including mom and dad. The dad has the best moment of frustrated confusion when his daughter walks into the house with only a swimsuit. (Fun fact: The Haim girls’ mother was Anderson’s grade school art teacher.)
  • The 35mm film is gorgeous. It truly feels like a film shot in the ‘70s and not a polished nostalgia painting like Stranger Things.

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Watch the official trailer for #LicoricePizza now. Coming soon only to theaters.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work here, on FreshFiction.tv and on RottenTomatoes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.