* * * * 1/2
Opening 26 December in Australia. Now open in the US.
Paul Thomas Anderson has been making music videos for Haim, a family musical group based in Los Angeles. Now he’s built his latest film, Licorice Pizza, around Alana Haim, and, in her first acting role, she becomes a movie star in front of our eyes, as does her co-star Cooper Hoffman, in his.
It is astonishing to see such a major film by such a major filmmaker carried on the shoulders of two people with literally no other acting credits (although Haim has been in many music videos, Hoffman’s IMDB credit list literally says ‘Acting: 1 Credit’, and it’s this film). It’s astonishing as a risk (or, put another way, it’s astonishingly brave) and it’s astonishing how good they are. Licorice Pizza is the story of two young people’s friendship, and although the cast is large, it is very much centred on these two, and they are both superb.
Haim’s character, also named Alana (Anderson wrote the film for her) is the protagonist, a twenty-five year old Jewish girl living with her parents and sisters (all played by her real family members) in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles in 1973, who befriends and develops an intense relationship with a fifteen-year-old small-time actor and big-time dreamer, Gary, played by Hoffman (who is Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s son). Over what feels like about a year, they follow Gary’s dreams – of selling waterbeds, mainly – while finding out who they are and how they feel.
It’s a warm, warm movie, often very funny, thoroughly engaging and impeccably crafted (the cinematography being a highlight). While the subject matter may seem lighter than some of Anderson’s more sombre work (eg There Will Be Blood and The Master), it is no less thematically rich than any of his films. For what themes are greater than love and friendship (and this is a very good movie about love and friendship)? One of the films of the year.