Nostalgia Trip

Any film by Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread, is an event, and so it goes with his new work, Licorice Pizza. Taking us back to the early 1970s in the San Fernando Valley where he grew up, this nostalgic boy-meets-girl tale is a free-wheeling effort that could so easily pass for a cousin to his 2002 movie, Punch-Drunk Love. Superficially, it’s set in the same era and area as 1997’s Boogie Nights, though it doesn’t contain the darkness of that hyperkinetic look at the region’s pornography industry.

The story follows 15-year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son to Anderson’s late contributor Philip Seymour Hoffman), a high school kid who is also a young actor. He may not be the best looking in class, but he oozes both confidence and an entrepreneurial spirit. In the first scene, he meets Alana Kane (Alana Haim), ten years his senior, and he relentlessly pursues her until she agrees to go out with him.

When Gary incurs the wrath of the variety show host, Lucy Doolittle, that he’s working for and Alana dates one of his co-stars, their time together looks to be over. But gradually a friendship forms as Gary runs a waterbed company, of all things, and romance simmers beneath the surface, in what is the most sweet-natured movie of Anderson’s career. Certainly if you were staging a PTA movie night, it’d sit nicely alongside Punch-Drunk Love as well as his stoner comedy Inherent Vice.

Both the leads are very appealing to watch, while the support cast includes Sean Penn (as a lecherous daredevil film director) and Bradley Cooper (as an unhinged waterbed customer who just so happens to be dating Barbra Streisand). If that wasn’t cool enough, Tom Waits pops up, as does Uncut Gems director Benny Safdie, playing a political candidate in the film’s final act (that feels at odds with the more innocent nature of the rest of the movie).

With a meandering narrative, it’s Anderson at the more relaxed end of his cinematic spectrum; the period detail from production designer Florencia Martin and the Jonny Greenwood score are tip-top, but after the uniqueness of his last outing, Phantom Thread, this feels more like a palate-cleansing doodle. It is, of course, still streets ahead of most other movies – and, perhaps, the perfect way to usher in the New Year.

Licorice Pizza is in cinemas from 1 January. For more details, click here.

James Mottram