WHAT I LIKED: In any form of storytelling, the point of a plot is generally to create a sequence of events that test or develop characters or real-world themes. Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Licorice Pizza,' depicts a sarcastic 25-year-old girl called Alana (Alana Haim) and a quirky 15-year-old entrepeuner called Gary (Cooper Hoffman) in a co-dependent friendship in 70s LA. But bizarrely, most segments of the plot are fairly meaningless to those characters (or any themes) - things simply happen until the film eventually ends.
That's not to say there aren't any scenes that do something to build or develop the central pair; their first meetings are electric because we can see how much Alana needs Gary's doting and zest for life (despite how much she thinks that's "weird"), and how much Gary would benefit from her stability. But pretty soon, Alana ends up aimlessly tagging along with a load of his crazy plans (which range from selling water beds, to opening a casino) and they never get together romantically but do get jealous if either one flirts with anyone else. This continues for the entirety of the film; him carrying on as cockily and recklessly as always, their relationship providing none of the validation or love she's looking for, and that means there's ultimately no real arcs to speak of. But at the very least it has to be said that the performances are always convincing and often amusing, and the 70s LA setting is evocatively and honestly brought to life by Anderson.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Most of the things that happen, though often vaguely amusing, genuinely feel like plot for the sake of it. Gary opens a water bed shop. Alana joins a mayoral campaign. The pair have an argument with Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper) and smash up his car. None of these segments spur anything beyond a little momentary struggle in the characters, and for that reason you could even go as far as to call it a hangout movie.
Those kind of sprawling, random events are a feature of some of Anderson's films, but normally such moments serve merely as enjoyable distractions on the road to something meaningful. Here it strangely feels like he's either become exclusively obsessed with creating some kind of flippant, surface-level, Tarantino-esque atmosphere, or, more likely, that he believes there's some central, romantic pull between these characters that the film is building to release at the end. The reality is that they lack any romantic chemistry at all, so when they do finally get together, it doesn't feel like something we've been waiting for, it's just yet another meaningless thing that happens to these characters without either of them learning anything about themselves or changing any great deal.
VERDICT: Two enigmatic characters and great performances are left stranded by an aimless hangout movie plot that does little for them. 'Licorice Pizza,' represents a rare stumble for writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson.