Entertainment

This charming coming-of-age drama from the 1970s sparkles with mischief: BRIAN VINER reviews Licorice Pizza


LLicorice Pizza (15, 133 min)

Verdict: Superb eccentric romcom

Evaluation:

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (12A, 111 min)

Verdict: I hate being mean, but …

Evaluation:

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, hitting theaters tomorrow, is the metaphorical blow in the arm we all need right now, to go with the real one.

It’s an irresistibly offbeat romantic comedy, full of effervescent charm as well as real belly laughs. But it’s also cheekily calculated, as if Anderson was daring audiences to find offense where there wasn’t. I cherished every minute of it.

It’s a high school boy and girl story set in California’s San Fernando Valley in 1973 that feels like standard romantic comedy fare. But part of the film’s boldness comes from the age difference, as only one of them is in school.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, hitting theaters tomorrow, is the metaphorical hit in the arm we all need right now, to go with the real one.

This is Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman), 15, who plays an experienced child actor with charisma and self-confidence far beyond his years, not to mention the entrepreneurial flair for starting a waterbed business. which he calls Soggy Bottom.

The day the photos are taken for the school yearbook, Gary strikes up a conversation with photographer’s assistant Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and quickly falls in love with her, undeterred by the fact that she is much more. old (she is 25 years old).

Anderson is of course aware that Gary’s tender age could lead the film into uncomfortable territory, which arguably explains why the relationship remains largely chaste. Additionally, Alana is as gently naive as Gary is precociously engaging, condensing the gap as they support each other through various adventures.

Truly, the film tells two coming-of-age stories, hers and hers, with occasional narrative tangents, some of which are incorrigibly playful, others slightly threatening.

In an example from the first, John Michael Higgins plays a restaurateur with a Japanese wife, producing a comedy straight out of Benny Hill’s playbook that challenges modern sensibilities head-on.

Either you will find it hilarious. . . or you won’t. Either way, this episodic storytelling is very skillfully done and, for the most part, sparkles with innocent pleasure.

In some ways, the movie reminded me of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time. . . In Hollywood – not so much because it’s lovingly located in the same neighborhood around the same time; more in the way real-life characters interfere with fiction, most notably Gary’s waterbed client Jon Peters, Barbra Streisand’s extremely unstable hairdresser boyfriend, who is gleefully hammered by Bradley Cooper.

With Sean Penn as the urban but spooky movie star, Tom Waits as an aged director, and Benny Safdie as the rising politician whose campaign Alana is joining, Licorice Pizza doesn’t want famous names and familiar faces. But the truly inspired casting choices are the two protagonists, both new and wonderful.

In truth, neither is exactly alien to stardom. Hoffman has the build and screen presence of his late father Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has worked extensively with Anderson in films such as Boogie Nights and The Master, while his co-star is in the rock band Haim, for which Anderson directed the videos.

It's a high school boy and girl story that takes place in California's San Fernando Valley in 1973 that feels like standard romcom fare.

It’s a high school boy and girl story that takes place in California’s San Fernando Valley in 1973 that feels like standard romcom fare.

His two older sisters Este and Danielle, who are also part of the group, play his sisters in the film, with their real Israeli father as their father on screen. The result is a very funny and affectionately genuine depiction of a Friday night Jewish dinner, in which quarrels are shrouded in warmth.

I loved Anderson’s latest movie, 2017’s Phantom Thread, and this one has the same meticulous period detail – but this time it’s personal.

The writer-director pulled out memories of his own childhood in the Valley, and the film’s curious title is borrowed from a 1970s Southern California record store chain (Licorice Pizza, apparently, was a term of slang for an LP vinyl).

Fittingly, the soundtrack, starring David Bowie, The Doors, and Nina Simone, among many other great artists, is glorious. Every aspect of the film was crafted with overt dedication and a fair amount of mischief. It’s a seductive combination.

I was not at all seduced by The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain, an overly whimsical and overly mannered biopic of the Victorian artist who, by anthropomorphizing cats in his drawings for the Illustrated London News, popularized the idea to keep them as pets rather than just to suppress mice.

I was not wowed by The Electric Life of Louis Wain at all - I wouldn't want to drink a whole bottle of avocado and I wouldn't want to relive this movie again.

I was not wowed by The Electric Life of Louis Wain at all – I wouldn’t want to drink a whole bottle of avocado and I wouldn’t want to relive this movie again.

With an all-new Olivia Colman providing two narratives, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Wain with the same repertoire of tics he used in the TV drama Sherlock, meaning here that his character’s genius is inseparable from mental fragility.

Claire Foy plays Emily, the governess of his offspring of younger sisters, with whom he falls in love and, in an affront to social order, gets married.

Their relationship is at the heart of All The Best In The Will Sharpe Movie, and a nice supporting cast is being led by Toby Jones as Wain’s editor.

But in keeping with the illustrations themselves, there is an intensely smooth gloopiness throughout the exercise that feels too heavy even for the holiday season. I wouldn’t want to drink an entire bottle of avocado and I wouldn’t want to relive this movie.

Yet, who knows, eight in ten cat owners might love it.

Good year!

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