Licorice Pizza| Review
What tends to characterize the films of Paul Thomas Anderson is their ability to present small-centered storylines in larger-than-life ways. Boogie Nights, for example, follows a very condensed narrative, yet manages to come across as a film tightly wound with many different aspects. This is clearly due to Anderson’s skill in orchestrating focus from one character—and scene – to another, all the while making the film feel incredibly smooth. And while it’s evident that he’s been able to do this repeatedly in his films throughout the years, his latest endeavor has proven that he isn’t the same filmmaker he once was. From the opening scene of Licorice Pizza, Anderson struggles to find direction as to where to take the plot. It wanders for roughly a couple of minutes, with little hint as to why Anderson’s done this, until he seemingly gives up and just presents the starting point for the narrative. From this beginning scene alone, Anderson has given a glimpse into the haphazard nature of the film.
As the film progresses, this problem becomes more apparent. It’s eventually morphs into a much more serious problem for the film’s writing. Though the structure builds inherently well, Anderson chooses to maneuver to places irrelevant to the plot. Near the ¼ mark of the film, there is a scene involving a character being arrested. This singular moment, though it attempts to present itself as something thematically crucial to the overall plot, all but fails to grab audience attention and its inherent lack of substance. This wouldn’t be the only time, as characters show up, participate in a few back-to-back scenes, and then are never discussed or mentioned again, all the while the film portrays these moments with great importance. The multitude of these empty scenes makes the audience feel as if what they are watching is essentially filler. Though Anderson mistakes these scenes to be fundamental to the overall theme of the film, the audience becomes lost in whether or not to acknowledge them as important or to simply zone out and dismiss this.
And while Licorice Pizza may struggle narrative-wise, the film counteracts this with incredible cinematography and direction. Despite these aforementioned scenes coming in the way for a much better film, Anderson proves to have kept his skill for pacing. He knows exactly when to speed up the film's plot, lower it, and ultimately linger on it --- all in the effort to provide a satisfactory sense of the film’s progression. For instance, there is a notable scene towards the ending of the film, whereas the plot thickens in tension and the outcome is nearly unpredictable. Rather than simply connecting the dots of the two side stories, for which they make up the suspense of this scene, he instead chooses to take careful direction and steps in pacing the result of this scene. Likewise, Anderson chooses to shoot on 35mm film, resulting ensuing in a “blow-up” feel. This is parallels films produced during the time, with their abundance of wide-angle lenses and long tracking shots, providing a glimpse into this filmmaker’s admiration for cinema of the past. But Anderson’s compositions must also not be forgotten, as he knows where and how to place characters to maximize their presence within the scene and general narrative. He manages to make great use of both depth and distance within the frames of his shots, helping to elevate the thematic undercoat of each scene. And while there are apparent problems within the film, Anderson delivers a film worthy of admiration for its mastery of direction and thematic content, though it may sometimes fail in conveying these narrative characteristics.
Time Stamp: February 2022