Having grown up in the San Fernando Valley, acclaimed director PT Anderson takes a lighthearted look at his regional roots in the movie Licorice Pizza. Neither a personal memory a la Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, nor a satire to vapidness like the “Valley Girl” song, Licorice Pizza embraces a distinct culture found in the perimeter of Hollywood where everyday people sometimes cross paths with faces whose fame both permits and promotes outlandish behavior.
Using real life tales told by a youthful entrepreneur with chutzpah created by years as a child actor, Anderson reimagines a mix of common teenage dreams plus the extremes allowed in a community that exploits and creates some of those fantasies. As screenwriter, Anderson applies his sense of specificity about the place where he grew up and still lives today. Anderson’s title comes from a popular record store chain in Los Angeles County, and he includes Tail O’ the Cock, a once-popular restaurant in Sherman Oaks.
Mixing in period cars and clothing, Anderson revives the Valley as it seemed when the Nineteens Sixties moved into the Seventies, the bright optimism of a Mary Poppins musical era finding turmoil in politics and economic calamities like gas shortages. Main character Gary finds himself in a similar transition period, no longer cute enough for television and movies and not quite ready for adult roles. His environment lets him go off in crazy directions like interacting with William Holden and Jon Peters, portrayed in brief and funny outings by Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper.
Lead roles go to newcomers Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim as buddies on their way to discovering what really matters in life: love. Though its ultimate face is that of a rom-com, Licorice Pizza gets there without using the genre’s cliches and comes off as an enjoyable little romp into an incongruous world.