Spoiler alert: the term “licorice pizza” is never mentioned in this film
Licorice Pizza is director Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest project and was released on November 26, 2021. It stars Alana Haim as Alana and Cooper Hoffman as Gary. The film is set in the 1970’s in California’s San Fernando Valley, and has been described as a sort of “coming of age” film. Alana is 25 years old working for a school photography company and she meets 15 year old Gary at his high school picture day. Gary immediately falls in love with her and asks her out, but Alana refuses to go on a date with him considering their age gap. They begin to hang out as friends, although Gary still has feelings for her, which he is not shy about. Alana begins to get sucked into Gary’s various business projects and adventures. Many of the scenes feel like events of a 1970s sitcom woven together into one movie. We see Alana exposing her deep immaturity, contrasted with Gary’s moments of attempting maturity. For much of the film, it is as if she is trying to hold onto adolescence while he is trying to escape it.
Licorice Pizza, although critically acclaimed, has not been without its controversy. Most notably is the age gap between the two protagonists and the romantic implications and scenes throughout the film. The plot starts out with Gary pursuing Alana, who laughs off his advances, he is persistent and continues to bother her. However, Alana does begin to entertain his advances and there are several montages of them being flirty with one another– their legs touching under the table as they giggle with one another, or holding prolonged eye contact. Many of these scenes made me uncomfortable, especially some of the scenes that involved Alana entertaining him or giving into his advances.
Another controversy of the film is two scenes that involve a character being racist towards two seperate Japanese women. Jerry, a local businessman, first meets with Gary’s mother about the new Japanese restaurant he and his wife, Mioko, want to open. His wife does not speak English, so he begins to speak down to her in a mocking Japanese accent. She then responds to him in Japanese, however there are no English subtitles explaining what she is saying. This then happens again later, but with a different wife named Kimoko. I understood that Anderson was trying to get us to laugh at Jerry and portray him as being stupid and racist, but the scenes were done in an unclear way. These scenes have garnered decent amounts of backlash. Several Asian activist groups have condemned the film, claiming that it normalizes scenes of anti-Asian racism during a time where hate crimes against Asians have skyrocketed. Anderson has defended these scenes by saying he was trying to paint an accurate portrayal of the 1970s, and included the common casual racism that was seen during that time. However, if Anderson was trying to make commentary on casual racism, it did not come across to the audience easily enough. Overall, these scenes felt awkward and unnecessary.
Anderson does deserve credit for Licorice Pizza being visually fantastic. The vibrant aesthetic of 1970s Los Angeles was exciting to watch. The costumes were excellent, especially all of Alana’s. Anderson puts together a fun and meaningful movie with Licorice Pizza, but my main issue is how much trust he put in his audience to understand what he was trying to say. In terms of the controversies like Alana and Gary’s relationship, the scenes with the Japanese wives, and the way Alana is portrayed as a female protagonist, he hopes too much that the audience will understand any larger social points he is trying to make.
Sofia Nolfo is a second-year communication and design management major who was deeply saddened that the film did not in fact have any licorice or pizza. They can be reached at [email protected].