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Licorice Pizza: A dreamlike swirl

Paul Thomas Anderson returns to the San Fernando Valley of his youth in Licorice Pizza.

Photo: Paul Thomas Anderson/MGM

Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread) makes his way back to the San Fernando Valley of his youth in Licorice Pizza.

Set in 1973, the story follows 15-year-old budding actor Gary Valentine (newcomer Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) as he navigates his complicated relationship with the 25-year-old woman of his dreams, Alana Kane (Alana Haim, of the band HAIM, also making her big screen debut). Both are fantastic, and joining them is a charismatic rollcall of performers: Sean Penn, Tom Waits, and the show-stealing double-act of Bradley Cooper playing an unhinged film producer and Harriet Sansom Harris as Gary’s terrifyingly intense agent.

They populate a period piece that feels like a very worthy companion piece to PTA’s Boogie Nights and Inherent Vice: its evocative and at times shambolic rhythms encapsulate the highs and lows of the era.

Beyond that, Licorice Pizza is a coming-of-age romance about two people whose feelings never seem to coincide at the same time. As such, the film shows the director’s sweetest (and funniest) colours to date, and the overall effect is a dreamlike swirl that you’ll have a hard time dispelling. You won’t much want to either.

Licorice Pizza / D: Paul Thomas Anderson (US, 2021), with Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim. Starts: January 27.