Synopsis: Attraction and wackiness in the San Fernando Valley. (Streaming on Amazon as of September 2022.)
1973, San Fernando Valley… Alana is trying to find her groove. Gary is always looking for an angle. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza is chockful of Hollywood lore and teen hijinks. Casting was seemingly done on the Friends & Family Plan. Actors include PTA’s partner, Maya Rudolph, his kids, Steven Spielberg’s kids, friend of the family Cooper Hoffman as Gary Valentine and friend Alana Haim as Alana Kane. Haim sisters (and bandmates) Danielle and Este also appear. And the Haim’s parents.
Alana Kane works as a photographer’s assistant and doesn’t like her boss or job. She spends her off-time yelling at her sisters and getting high. Gary Valentine meets Alana while she’s working and immediately starts hitting on her. What are you twelve? she sneers.
Nope, not twelve. Gary is fifteen and she is twenty-five. It is school picture day. Alana hands Gary a comb and he asks her to meet up with him later at a nearby restaurant. Against her better judgment, Alana shows up, telling him that it’s not a date.
Although Alana warns him not to be creepy with his sweet talk, he is. Gary manages to tamp down his horniness for a bit while he tells Alana that he has been an actor since he was a child. Which he still is, of course. He also runs a public relations business; he writes copy and his mom meets clients.
Although we never see Gary in class or studying, he is somehow advancing through high school. He has also acquired a retinue of geeky young teen helpers, always at the ready to play in a band at a grand opening of Gary’s or work as deliverymen in whatever Gary’s latest venture might be. I wondered about all of the legal machinations of Gary the Child incorporating and setting up accounts with vendors. There is one hiccup in his plans…
Gary’s mom can’t fly with him to New York for a spot on a variety show where a battleaxey I Love Lucy lady will be leading the number he is in. But Gary has a solution: twenty-something Alana can chaperone him. All the better to try and…get her into bed? Not so sure if he could quite close the deal with that, but when they get back from NY, he does let her know that he’d like to see her boobs. Alana gets angry and frustrated with Gary, but still goes into business with him. And gets jelly when he flirts with some freshman-looking girl. Ewww…
Gary gets jelly too. One night he sees her at his fave restaurant with Sean Penn as a William Holdenesque guy–some action-adventure actor whose heyday was in the 1950’s. Alana is clueless regarding a career track, so, encouraged by Gary, she auditioned for a movie role earlier that day. Older Actor Guy is impressed and takes her out to dinner. He tells her that he is most at home, not in Hollywood, but in the jungle. In Africa. Confused, Alana asks him if he is practicing lines or trying to have an actual conversation. A trippy night follows.
One day Alana asks someone her own age if she thinks it’s weird that she hangs out with Gary and his underage friends. Yes! Yes, it is!!! But her friend sees nothing odd about it. Probably because she is high. Or maybe because it is the 1970’s in the Valley.
Gary continues to –inexplicably– attract Alana. She gets involved with a plan he has for a waterbed store. A selling point is that the beds are encased in 100% Arabian vinyl. Should she try and break free of Gary’s underage orbit? Could Gary show a little self-awareness and stop being so immature? Well, he is only fifteen. And that my friend is the problem that I had with the movie…
Both of the leads are very good and the characters are maddening, but interesting. But why didn’t PTA make the guy at least almost eighteen? The ickiness of him playing a fifteen-year-old kid (it seems he was eighteen during filming) while she is at least twenty-five (one line has her telling someone she is twenty-eight) doesn’t go away. And the whole narrative is predicated on them being attracted to each other. It’s weird.
But somehow it is not as weird as PTA’s The Phantom Thread. That’s the movie that made Daniel Day Lewis retire because when he went deep into the bizarre fashion designer character, it messed with his head.
I think that Alana and Cooper will do okay. But Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters, former producer-hairstylist-boyfriend to Barbra Streisand, delivers an intensely kooky performance, so he might want to relax by just directing himself again in A Star is Born 2.
Oh, and a bit of advice for Gary & Alana… Gary, start going to class! Alana, start hanging out with people your own age, like, maybe your sisters. Hey! You could start a band!
P.S. Check out Haim’s music video for “Summer Girl” here.