Produced by: Sara Murphy, Adam Somner, Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie etc.
Cinematography: Michael Bauman and Paul Thomas Anderson
Edited by Andy Jurgensen
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Any film from Paul Thomas Anderson will certainly receive high critical praise and Licorice Pizza (2021) is certainly no different. Not only do I think this is his most over-rated film. I don’t even think it is a good one. Not for any technical reasons. Because as usual Anderson’s filmic skills as a director, the scintillating cinematographic style, the evocative rendition of early 1970’s Californian suburbs, plus two star-making turns within a formidable cast, ensure Licorice Pizza (2021) is deservedly going to win many plaudits. But I just did not get the story about pretty much nothing and did not connect with the lead romance.
Set in 1973, Licorice Pizza (2021), is part slice-of-life period drama and part character comedy, with a spine consisting of an odd romance between entrepreneurial fifteen-year-old, Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and twenty-five-year-old, Alana Kane (Alana Haim). While containing many brilliantly directed scenes, the film is a hot mess of indulgent rooting through Paul Thomas Anderson’s historical research and anecdotal events inspired by real-life film producer, Gary Goetzman.
Being asked to root for a relationship which is dubious on the surface and extremely complex to say the least is not beyond me. But Licorice Pizza (2021) doesn’t address the age difference, aside from a couple of moments in the script. I know Cooper Valentine is an old head on young shoulders, but why Alana doesn’t hang out with people her own age was weird for me. I’m not being politically correct or a prude, but is Anderson asking for us to root for what could end up being statutory rape. Am I over-thinking this? Well, all I can say is it impacted my emotions of a major aspect of the story.
Licorice Pizza‘s (2021) worst crime is it’s virtually plotless and I could not identify with the characters. I liked Gary to a certain extent as he ducks and dives to make a living, but what was at stake? Nothing really. Yeah, I get it is art but I found Anderson’s vision boring. Sure, the actors are great, especially the effervescent Alana Haim. Virtual cameos from Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper and Tom Waits failed for me though, with Cooper’s coke-addled and womanising impression of Jon Peters about as funny as an enema. Of course, the cinematography, period design, soundtrack and costumes are exquisitely presented, but they exist in an emotional vacuum. Finally, Licorice Pizza (2021) made me want to watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous 1970s masterpiece, Boogie Nights (1997). Now, that film deserved all the critical praise that came its way.
SIX OF THE BEST #34 – AMAZING FILMS I DO NOT LIKE!
Are there box office hits, cinematic phenomena and damned fine films loved by critics which you DO NOT like? That isn’t to say they aren’t great films, but subjectively you just don’t enjoy them? I mean some people dislike much of Christopher Nolan’s work! What!? Okay, Interstellar (2014), was not his best, but hey that’s just my opinion. It’s all just opinions.
Now, I like to be positive on this blog and have critical balance when writing my reviews. In fact, some films I choose not to review because I don’t want to slag something off which is just not for me. I also generally avoid reviewing films I consider terrible because I prefer to avoid negativity.
Thus, this article is not about having a pop at classic films or saying they are over-rated for attention. The truth is – I AM IN THE WRONG HERE! But I think it’s interesting to examine why I don’t like these six excellent films. After all, many talented people have worked passionately on them, so in no way do I want to disrespect their craft. Which is why, I repeat, I am wrong!
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
James Cameron is one of the greatest genre filmmakers of all time. He is also a technological innovator and genius. In Avatar (2009), he truly topped himself in regard to creating not only the beautiful world and inhabitants of Pandora, but by using never-seen-before motion-capture cinematic techniques. Moreover, the film would go on to make over $2 billion at the box office, so I’m not worthy enough to criticise Avatar (2009). But the script is incredibly flat and derivative. The lead characters are mostly unlikable and I genuinely found the amount of blue on show irritating to the eye. Worst of all is the hypocrisy that a film this expensive, and with a carbon footprint this big, is critiquing capitalist corporations who destroy the natural world.
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
Yes, this horror film had one of the smartest and ingenious marketing campaigns of all time. Yes, I should be praising it because I love horror films and also get excited when indie filmmakers hit the big time with low budget films. But, The Blair Witch Project (1999) has no real story as it just a clever series of jump scare set-ups. More importantly, it has no characters you can root for as they are so stupid and obnoxious. Worst of all it wasn’t scary or suspenseful. That’s because I wanted the bickering trio to die. I mean, who throws away a map. They were morons! Plus, this expertly crafted movie committed the worst crime of all – bringing back the found footage film! Now, don’t get me started on THAT cinematically moribund subgenre!
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)
What’s not to like about an award winning, box office smash directed by arguably the most brilliant director of a generation? Furthermore, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) also contains some of the most breath-taking and ground-breaking special effects. So, with the Oscar winning cinematography and majestic score, why don’t I enjoy this Steven Spielberg sci-fi masterpiece? In short, I cannot stand the choices Richard Dreyfus’ character makes. I did not believe his journey. Why would you want to go to space and connect with aliens? Why would you abandon your family and head off on some frantic search for something from the sky? Eat the mash potato! Don’t make mini-mountains out of it. I get that there is pseudo-religious metaphors going on, but why were we meant to care? Amazing spectacle, but devoid of emotional connection and an ending that didn’t make much logical sense to me.
THE MASTER (2012)
I really love films and documentaries about cults. Especially where religion is used to control human beings and make them do crazy things. What possesses another person to want to control others? They are often extremely charismatic and talented people too, so always fascinating to explore. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012), and while this has been denied, he studies the relationship between a lost soul drawn to a movement that may or may not be a reflection of Scientology. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a World War II veteran is pulled toward Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), a leader of a cult known as “The Cause”. But not much happens other than Quell having a series of breakdowns amidst post-traumatic stress and alcoholism. Anderson is one of the great humanist and existential filmmakers working today, but The Master (2012) was too impenetrable and alienating for me.
MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)
I am a massive fan of David Lynch’s oeuvre. He is one of the most incredibly idiosyncratic and original voices is cinema. Lynch is visually, aurally and cinematically able to deliver both coherent and surreal narratives that blow your mind and heart out. After bamboozling audiences with Lost Highway (1997) he delivered an emotionally moving road movie in The Straight Story (1999). After that I’m not sure what was in his damn fine coffee when Mulholland Drive (2001) was devised. My understanding was it was a rejected filmed pilot which transmuted into a feature film. Crossing many genres including thriller, detective, horror and romance, the narrative splinters via many characters in Hollywood, notably Naomi Watts portraying an actress experiencing a career and identity crisis. That’s just the tip of an extremely enigmatic iceberg and the bottom line was I just didn’t care. Critics love Mulholland Drive (2001) and it often tops best film lists. I have absolutely no idea why.
THE WITCH (2015)
My filmmaking and screenwriting career is more a hobbling hobby these days. Other than not getting on the right career train, or getting lost in the smoke of an overcrowded creative platform, one main reason I may not have succeeded is because I arguably don’t have an original vision. Maybe I am just too generic. One cannot say that about Robert Eggers. This is one truly talented filmmaker. His debut film The Witch (2015) was a low budget folk horror masterpiece which became a sleeper hit at the box office. Set in 1630s New England, it is an authentically designed and brilliantly acted period drama with Anya Taylor Joy standing out. But aside from the historical accuracy of the language, locations and costumes the story was SO slow. I realise The Witch (2015) is an arthouse classic, but I just did not connect with the characters and was bored all the way through. There are some occasional scares, but it’s more a film which draws horror from underlying dread and enigma rather than the classic horror style I prefer.