"...takes you back to a time when the future was unwritten, and anything was possible"

A Tasty Slice of ‘70s Era Nostalgia

(021822) I saw three films in 2021 featuring fine lead female performances by huge pop stars: Jennifer Hudson in Respect, Lady Gaga in House of Gucci, and Alana Haim of the vocal group, Haim in Licorice Pizza. All three deserved Oscar consideration, but all three got snubbed. My favorite performance (and film) of the three was by far Alana Haim’s portrayal of Alana Kane in Licorice Pizza. She plays a feisty, endearing quintessential all American girl next door that everyone would want to know. The film did score some major Oscar nominations including best picture, best original screenplay, and best director. It may have a shot at getting best picture although West Side Story or Power of the Dog are more likely to win.

Licorice Pizza is an utterly charming period piece that masterfully recreates the 70s as seen through the eyes of a young man and the woman he is pursuing (Haim). It is about the sometimes-wacky adventures of a 15-year male huckster who is always looking for an angle and a more mature but tempestuous 25-year-old female that he has a crush on. The screenplay is loosely based on some adventures of the TV and film producer, Gary Goetzman. The film essentially spotlights his real early life hi-jinks.

The film is named after a famous SoCal record store that existed in the late '70s and '80s. The expression is also slang for pizza sized and shaped vinyl records, which have the appearance of black licorice. The store was a favorite of the film’s writer/director who said he feels warm feelings of nostalgia whenever he hears the phrase. This ties into the film because everything happens in front of the background of film and music culture.

Licorice Pizza was made by Paul Thomas Anderson who has directed back to back classics or near classics for decades including Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will be Blood, and Phantom Thread. He also made the terrific Punch-Drunk Love which is one of the few Adam Sandler films I loved.

The film also includes some amusing parodies of the 70s and Hollywood culture (which is often presented as utterly absurd) and although this film is much sunnier, it would make a nice companion piece to other Hollywood satires such as Day of the Locust or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

The story begins when Gary Valentine (Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son-Cooper) an experienced beyond his years 15-year-old high school student meets a much older woman Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and is instantly smitten on his way to taking yearbook pictures. The two become quick friends. And when Gary needs someone to accompany him to New York TV special she ends up tagging along. She soon meets a smug co-star/actor who she has a brief relationship with. Of course, both Gary and presumably the audience hate him instantly and completely.

Although Alana is tempted by Gary’s contagious hyper energy (which she shares) deep down she realizes that they can never work as a couple.  Their relationship seems to fall in that grey area between a romance and friendship mostly because she wants it that way.  Gary is loveable but slightly ridiculous in his beach boys like haircut, but his persistence and confidence could wear almost anyone down. Shortly after he meets Alana, he declares she is “the girl I am going to marry someday,” while she continually insists, “We are not boyfriend and girlfriend.”

The film touches upon the importance of Alana’s spiritual heritage when she brings home her new love interest. Alana’s dad asks her beau to do the family’s Jewish blessing and unwisely he immediately announces he is an atheist which does not over too well with the family and they send him packing

The film also mocks the faddishness of South Cal culture when Alana and Gary start a joint business venture selling water beds. They even have a nifty saying, “Liquid Luxury for You” and Gary jokingly considers using joints to attract potential customers.

Gary and Alana also meet other eccentric personalities such as the Charles Manson-like hairdresser Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper), and John C. Reilly who appears as Fred Gwynne, the Herman Munster actor. There is a parade of real life big and minor celebrities as well as people that won’t ever make it. Like the Kinks’ song says: “everyone is a dreamer, and everyone is a star” or at least everyone wants to be one in this South-Cal setting. Bradley Cooper is absolutely hysterical and almost unrecognizable in his small, comedic role wearing a porn star like getup. And many including me thought he should have been gotten a best supporting actor nomination.

Although the film is mostly whimsical and upbeat, it sometimes hints at many injustices, imbalances, and prejudices in the Hollywood workplaces.  Alana works as a photographer, and she constantly must endure her slimy bosses’ sexual harassment, and she always must dress in uncomfortable hot pants at her job. There is also quirky but despicable character who brings to light certain truths about Hollywood biases. Gary’s mom works for a restaurant owner who has more than one Japanese wife and always speaks to them in a hideous mock Asian accent. At one point there is kind of a weird and unsettling Taxi Driver homage where they practically recreate the whole campaign headquarters scene involving Cybill Shepard from the film, complete with similar dialog; something that hard core film buffs should enjoy.

The soundtrack features original songs by the always excellent Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead as well a mixed bag of songs which serve as time signals such as The Doors’ Peace Frog, David Bowie’s Life on Mars, Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind, and Paul and Linda McCartney’s Let me Roll It.

The film always seems authentic and some of the fictional characters I encountered in this film seemed more real than the family members I encountered at this year’s Christmas parties. This heartfelt film is somewhat like American Graffiti because it brilliantly takes you back to a time when the future was unwritten, and anything was possible.  It is delight from start to finish.

Directed & Written by:    Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring:    Will Angarola, Griff Giacchino, James Kelley
Released:    112621 (USA)
Length:    133 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for language, sexual material and some
 drug use

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to and His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

LICORICE PIZZA © 2022 United Artists
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.

the Eternals"


"West Side Story