Two young people are running: towards each other, away from each other, with each other – the direction barely matters, just that they don’t stop. The sun burns bright overhead, casting everything in wistful, gauzy orange. The year is 1973 and Alana, supposedly 25, and Gary, 15, have no idea what they want, but they want it badly.

Or, more accurately: romantic Gary wants to want, and prickly Alana wants to be wanted, and in Paul Thomas Anderson’s fizzing ode to the chaotic Los Angeles of his youth, this is fuel enough. All of Anderson’s films are, really, odd-couple romances, and so it is with Licorice Pizza: Gary and Alana meet at a school photo day where Alana works as an assistant and it only gets weirder and sweeter from there. A gulf exists between them, partly because of the knotty age gap, but more because of what this gap means – 15, when everything feels possible, and the idea of 25, when it already feels over.

What makes it all work is that Anderson is less interested in a relationship film than in capturing the giddy essence of a crush: its self-indulgence and fantasy and sheer momentum. Knees bump, the outline of hands – backlit through a ridiculous waterbed Gary is trying to flog – drift together, and the gaps between legs, fingers, lives are made utterly manifest. Beginnings, despite what Alana thinks, are everywhere: the potential held in an infinite summer and fancying someone stupidly.

It’s all so wonderfully fresh and zingy, shot with a spontaneity that is both naturalistic and deliciously offbeat. Helmed by two astonishing debut performances from Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, Licorice Pizza knows there is nothing more alluring in this world than an unabashedly crooked smile, in spinning – however inappropriately – through the city with someone who might, finally, see you.



CAST: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie

DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Anderson

WRITER: Paul Thomas Anderson

SYNOPSIS: Child actor and young entrepreneur Gary Valentine falls for acerbic mid-twenties Alana Kane against the backdrop of 1970s Los Angeles.