Written by Michael Clawson
PTA might be my favorite living filmmaker, so naturally, I had enormous expectations for Licorice Pizza. I’m hugely relieved to find that it did not disappoint. I love the shaggy flow, how loosely the episodes hang together, the privileging of distinct moments over continuity. I love the tracking shots, and the momentum they give scenes where Gary and/or Alana are literally running around Encino. PTA returning to the San Fernando Valley and the 1970s might encourage connections to Boogie Nights, but Punch Drunk Love is the film that most often entered my mind, as Licorice Pizza is another oddball rom-com of sorts, albeit one braided together with a rambling coming-of-age story. You might say it’s PTA’s version of a Richard Linklater movie, except that Gary is far from the types that Linklater is drawn to. Gary’s a hustler, not a slacker.
A scene that epitomizes what PTA is doing is when Gary abruptly gets picked up by the police, who confuse him for a murder suspect. Gary is uncuffed after the cops realize their mistake, but his bafflement about what’s just happened leaves him stuck on the police station bench, unresponsive to Alana’s yelling at him to come outside. A decisive break from realism comes as Gary walks out, and inexplicably, he and Alana break into one of their many runs. Another perfect, similarly stylized scene: Gary walks into a shop and sees a water bed for the first time, the potent looks exchanged between him and the shop girl suggesting the imprint that this electrifying occasion will leave on Gary. I love the impressionism in scenes like these. As with Punch Drunk Love, PTA is less interested in the literal than in the feel and vibe of particular moments and relationships. The vibes in this movie are irresistible, and all the more so because it doesn’t ignore some of the unsettling and sadder aspects of the world it unfolds in.
Licorice Pizza Trailer
Licorice Pizza is playing in expanding theatrical release.