Monday, February 7, 2022

Licorice Pizza

It is often said that a therapist should remain one step ahead of his or her patients. Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza is 10 steps ahead of its audience. The film is hard to assimilate. Phenomenologically you don’t know how to categorize what’s happening. Unlike the directors previous work it doesn’t present Art with an “A,” opting instead for the feeling of Leave it to Beaver which has a very slight cameo appearance. One hint that there’s more in store than meets the eye are the subtitles. You don’t usually find these in English language films unless there’s an ethnic patois. Here it quickly becomes apparent the subtitles, with their stage directions, are the script which then poses a question the director never really answers. Within the confines of the fiction, are the flesh and blood characters real or merely wayward pieces of imagination? “Are these lines?” one character asks,”is it real?” The film is set in the San Fernando Valley during the 70s. It's a far cry from the milieu which provided the backdrop for films like The Master and Phantom Thread. The disquisition is unassuming and dully familiar at first. You begin to get the coordinates from the soundtrack which features 60s soul tunes like Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away.” The main character Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is a sometime child actor and precocious entrepreneur who, in consonance with the era, gets into the waterbed business. There are some outlandish scenes where Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper), Barbara Streisand’s hairdresser husband, who's prone to fits of violence, orders a bed from Gary. Gary's outfit, Fat Bernie’s Waterbed, soon becomes Fat Bernie’s Pinball Machines. Gary has fallen for Alana Kane (Alana Haim) a photographer's assistant who's ten years older. She will at first not admit him as a romantic interest due to the age gap. However, you're constantly waking up after being hit by a 2x4. Alana gets drunk and falls for an actor with the last name Holden, Jack not William. She falls off a motorcycle just as a looming crowd comes at her in a scene out of Night of the Living Dead. Numerous takes like this seem to be in search of an author, though they're quickly swept up by the director’s esthetic which presents reality as scenes from a script filmed on a meta basis by the director--but not by the characters in the film who are making their own film minus the equipment. There are signposts, for instance  the restaurant owner who has a succession of Japanese wives who he's incapable of communicating with since he doesn't speak their language--instead talking to them in English with a parodic Japanese accent. Gradually one learns the movie’s grammar. The denouement occurs when many of these strange, often mysterious events start to make sense. It all creeps up on you. By the end Anderson's pimple-faced boy and almost plain seeming diva have become idealized romantic leads whose very appearance recalibrate one's notion of what glamorous movie stars (which, in fact, Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman now are) look like.

watch the animation of Erotomania on You Tube

and listen to "Slip Away" by Clarence Carter

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