Licorice Pizza (2021)
Words by Lyla Johnston
Licorice Pizza (2021)
Almost every cast member in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza delves into some form of self-parody. It is a true story, weaved into a true story, weaved into fiction. Cooper Hoffman’s character Gary is a child actor-turned-salesman who, in real life, runs a production company with Tom Hanks. Bradley Cooper, star of the 2018 remake of A Star Is Born, plays John Peters, the ex-boyfriend of Barbara Streisand - star of the 1976 remake of A Star is Born. Then there are the Haim sisters – or, as they are known after time-travelling back into the early 1970s, the Kane sisters.
Via this slightly culture-shock-laden juxtaposition of 2020s SoCal cool and the film’s 70s SoCal cool, a muse is created in the form of the group’s youngest sister, Alana. But with the film’s rightful criticisms, especially in regards to the age gap between Gary and Alana, we’re fortunate the sisters have come out of the buzz unscathed.
Many have jokingly called ‘Licorice Pizza’ an extended Haim music video. Yes, Alana Kane was born on December 15th, as the youngest of three San Fernando Valley-based sisters, following guitarist Danielle and bassist Este. Multiple stories from the Haim memory banks were woven into the plot, most notably the scene where the Jewish Kanes reject Skyler Gisondo’s character for being an atheist. A lot of improvisation adds to this spin of the Haim slice-of-life, particularly from dad Moti: “Listen, young lady, you don’t bring this idiot to Shabbat dinner here.”
That being said, when it comes to movie-vehicles for musicians, it’s not exactly doing to Haim what A Hard Day's Night did to The Beatles. Those films are akin to serviceable cars with a bit of novelty, a la a Smart Fortwo or a post-2003 VW Beetle. ‘Licorice Pizza’ is an authentic 70s truck. Alana has never been a waitress, or a photographer’s assistant. The sisters have, to my knowledge, never engaged in any door-to-door campaigning. The fictional Alana is daring; the real Alana plays it safe.
In fact, Alana’s role is an eyeballed, yet near-perfect, amalgamation of herself, her mother, an unknown Tarzana County school staff member in the early 00s and Emmy-winning actress Kay Lenz. That’s why the film’s criticisms and discourse around the age gap are actually important. Part of Gary Valentine is Paul Thomas Anderson as much as Gary Goetzman. Donna Haim, the family matriarch, was PTA’s art teacher in elementary school, and the film is partially fueled by a crush he had on her in childhood. It veers uncomfortably into self-insert territory, especially when it comes to *that* boob-flash scene.
Even without the added authenticity (dodginess), Alana acts with aplomb. Alana acting with aplomb is an entire subplot in itself. After picking up the acting bug, Alana auditions to play a hippy singer named ‘Rainbow’ (fictionalizing the making of Clint Eastwood’s 1973 movie ‘Breezy’). Her imperfections add to scenes, both in script and by nature. Her naivete is often present; she looks slightly ticklish when she drives a car. Whether scripted or not, Alana’s reactions seem natural, especially for a first-and-possibly-only-time actor.
It’s shockingly easy to compare this musedom to Julia Fox’s infamous turn in ‘Uncah Jemz’, especially when Benny Safdie was involved in both projects. Compared to non-actors like Kevin Garnett, Julia’s lightly fictionalized appearance has her breezing naturally from scene-to-scene like she’s been at this for years, but unlike Alana, her musedom doesn’t involve the feeling of being put on a pedestal.
Superficially, Alana’s musedom feels beautiful, if a bit gimmicky. But, when you discover all the ins and outs of how the movie came to life, you start to wonder whether the Haim brand will come out tarnished or varnished by album four.