Licorice Pizza Review: Confusingly Great


Alana and Gary meeting each other for the first time.

Gavin Clingham, Staff Writer

“I’m not going to forget you. Just like you’re not going to forget me.” (Quote from Licorice Pizza that hit me hard for some reason).

So, to start this review off, I’m just going to say that I have been rewriting it over and over again since I first saw the movie. Before watching this movie, I was told great things about it and I was really excited to check it out. Now, there was one certain detail that these people neglected to mention in their praises: the two characters have a ten-year age difference, with the woman being 25 and the man being 15. I was a little bit bewildered by this because I thought these two were supposed to be in a romantic relationship. After watching this movie, I realized that is (hopefully) not the case. But it did confuse me enough that I spent a long time debating in my head whether I liked this movie or not. I think that with enough time, I’ve come to like this movie and I do want to see it again. Even with its controversial story aspects that have been getting blasted by critics, I think it still holds up pretty well. 

Licorice Pizza begins on a picture day for a high school where 25-year-old Alana (Alana Haim) sadly works to take pictures. As she reluctantly walks through a line of high schoolers with a mirror and a comb, she’s approached by a 15-year-old boy child actor named Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman). Gary immediately flirts with Alana despite the fact that she constantly holds him back by reminding him that she’s ten years older than him. After he asks her out to a friendly dinner, the two become close friends (luckily establishing that they are not dating). After Gary’s career begins to go downhill, Alana and Gary become business partners and navigate Los Angeles in the 1970s together. 

Still image of Cooper Hoffman in Licorice Pizza

The second I saw Licorice Pizza, I knew that I should give it a chance despite the fact that I was very confused. I was just thrown off because there’s a lot of deeply subtle storytelling and the movie doesn’t linger around to explain it. This threw me off at first, but I’ve given a lot of time to think about it, and I’ve grown to like the movie. I’d like to see it again so I can get a better experience that doesn’t involve my parents asking me questions about the movie and questioning me on why I took them to see it. But I think despite my initial misgivings, I like this movie a lot. 

I think my favorite part about the movie is the cinematography. I really love how Paul Thomas Anderson gave this a classic-film-look. I’m a sucker for a nice film look so I was naturally enthralled. I’m an even bigger sucker for long-take tracking shots, which PTA (Paul Thomas Anderson) uses quite a bit. I like that a lot of these shots rely on the audience to understand what’s happening (despite the fact that I didn’t know what was happening) because it really allows the story to unfold more subtly rather than shouting in your face. PTA also gives me the impression that he was passionate about this story because it felt so heartwarming and deep. Even if I had some certain misgivings, I enjoyed the story. 

One of the first things I said about the movie was that the two leads were absolutely amazing in this film. Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman need more movies right now. There are a dozen celebrities in this film but they carry the entire film on their backs. They each have the most screen time and have to deal with a lot of heavy arcs. Alana Haim managed to be absolutely snarky and charming at the same time in her performance and Cooper Hoffman brought such passion and innocence to the role that felt so believable. The two of them also have a ton of chemistry together and every scene just feels so natural with them in it.  

Still image from Licorice Pizza (

Now for the controversies of this film. From descriptions (from the very trustworthy sides of TikTok and Twitter), I was told that there was a really offensive portrayal of Japanese culture and that this film was very racist. After I saw the film, I realized that this is blown so far out of proportion that it’s laughable. This controversy that’s erupted over this issue is in the least being misworded and taken out of context. Licorice Pizza does feature a Caucasian man who speaks to his Japanese wife in a very fake and offensive Japanese accent, but that’s the point of who he is. He is a racist person in the early 70s and he is portrayed that way. It’s treated by the movie respectfully while being a darkly comedic moment. What it doesn’t do is promote offensive themes and support stereotypes. In fact, it blatantly criticizes horrible and offensive Asian stereotypes. 

And then there’s the rumored “relationship” between the two leads. I’ve gone back and forth on this because at first, I didn’t know how to justify it. However, from the words of Paul Thomas Anderson, “there’s nothing but the right intentions. It would surprise me if there was some kind of kerfuffle about it, because there’s not that much there…There isn’t a provocative bone in this film’s body”. I think this description sort of helps explain the age gap because it should mean that the two don’t really have some kind of romantic relationship (because that’d probably qualify as provocative and likely cause a kerfuffle). Throughout the film, Alana constantly establishes her boundaries and Gary learns to respect these boundaries because she is an adult and he is a child. But the two are close in that they both give each other attention when no one else will. Gary is left alone all the time by his mom and Alana is constantly berated by her family (played by Alana Haim’s real family, which is kind of cool) for not having her life together. They both value that they are respected and given attention and that’s all they really seek to gain from each other. I’ll take all this back if the relationship is deemed to be romantic and serious by Paul Thomas Anderson, but with his statement that this relationship is not provocative and has the right intentions, I think that this film is great.

So Licorice Pizza was probably the film that took the most time for me to warm up to. I felt like I enjoyed what this film was going for but I was so lost that I didn’t understand. Once I catch a single theater showing The Worst Person in the World (I can’t find this film showing in a theater within 10 miles), I’ll probably try to see this again because I feel like it’s the kind of film that deserves a rewatch as well as a second chance. I’d definitely recommend checking this movie out even if you’re not an obsessive cinephile like me. It’s just a fun thought-provoking movie that deserves more attention (but not the wrong attention).