Licorice Pizza Parent Guide
This film is like the food in its title - it's not for everyone.
Parent Movie Review
Young actor Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) may only be 15, but he’s got a bright future. Aside from his acting career, he helps his mother Anita (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) with their public relations company. Gary is always thinking of other businesses, always working on other plans and ideas – until he meets Alana (Alana Haim), who’s working for the photographer taking Gary’s high school photos. Although Alana is 25, Gary is convinced that they’re meant to be together, and despite her better judgement, Alana soon finds herself having dinner with him at one of the restaurants his family business represents. The more she gets to know Gary, the more Alana is attracted to him…and the more she realizes that things are unlikely to work between them. But Gary isn’t about to give up.
Meandering through its two-hour runtime without a clear destination in sight, Licorice Pizza is much like the title: Not for everyone. Or, at least, not for me. Despite what appears to be overwhelming critical praise and a number of major award nominations, this is a bizarre movie for many reasons. Since I have limited space, I’ll tell you about two of them.
First, and most obviously, is the age gap between the characters. Adults have no business becoming romantically involved with teenagers, under any circumstances. And it’s not as if Gary is incredibly mature – he’s certainly very composed for a 15-year-old, but he’s clearly as emotionally unstable and personally insecure as any of them. Alana, on the other hand, ignores every opportunity to behave like a responsible adult, preferring to pursue a messy and conflict-prone relationship with a child. It’s just icky: Imagine a movie featuring a 25-year-old man engaging in a romantic relationship with a 15-year-old girl. Would anyone consider that charming or would they view the older party as a predator? Why should this be different if the genders are switched?
My other issue is a very hands-off approach to some of the more problematic cultural norms of the 1970’s. Not least of which is restaurant-owner Jerry Frick’s (John Michael Higgins) incredibly racist habit of adopting a faux-Asian accent to speak to a number of Japanese women. Now, the 70’s weren’t exactly a poster child for anti-racism but throwing this kind of behaviour into a modern film without any discussion or criticism isn’t a terribly considerate approach. Not limiting itself to racism, there are several blink-and-you’d-miss-it instances of sexual harassment. Again, a common occurrence in the 70s, and one which you don’t expect to see presented so uncritically in a film released any time after that.
While the cinematography is good, and the soundtrack is superb, I’ve come to expect more than a clever camera and a good playlist from director Paul Thomas Anderson. Less a story than a mood-board for the rose-tinted joys of being young in L.A. in the early 1970s, Licorice Pizza struggles to deliver a coherent narrative and finds itself bogged down by the unpleasant moral implications of the characters’ choices – the consequences of which are frequently glossed over in favor of another coat of nostalgic varnish.Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman. Running time: 133 minutes. Theatrical release November 26, 2021. Updated February 24, 2022
Rating & Content Info
Why is Licorice Pizza rated R? Licorice Pizza is rated R by the MPAA for language, sexual material and some drug use
Violence: Characters are occasionally slapped or shoved. A person makes some graphically violent threats.
Sexual Content: There are several crude sexual references, some involving teenagers. A character flashes a teenager without on-screen nudity. There are several instances of sexual harassment.
Profanity: There are 42 uses of sexual expletives, 11 uses of scatological profanity, and occasional mild curses and terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adult characters are seen drinking socially and smoking both tobacco and marijuana. There is a brief reference to LSD.
Page last updated February 24, 2022
Licorice Pizza Parents' Guide
Why do you think Alana continues in a relationship with an underage partner? What kind of rationale does she use? How have social attitudes changed since the 1970s?
Related home video titles:
For more uncritical near-70’s nostalgia, try films like Dazed and Confused, Almost Famous, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.