Licorice Pizza Redefines American Beauty

Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman in Licorice Pizza. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures) A nostalgic look at ’70s Americana

Paul Thomas Anderson’s most famous films, Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood, cursed America. But Licorice Pizza lifts the curse with every seemingly spontaneous moment of young adult discovery. This is easily the American eccentric’s best film because his usual indie-movie flaws — obscure themes, cynical perspective, and technical showing-off — are mitigated by a rare, relatable narrative. The 1970s story about California youth on the margins of show business speaks to every American teen’s sense of belonging to a great, bountiful country. Gary (Cooper Hoffman) and Alana (Alana Haim) don’t exactly know how things work, but their determination to participate in the party makes them soulmates.

Gary pledges love to the slightly older Alana, who is not intimidatingly pretty but quirkily girlish enough for hormonal fascination. In this gender-stressed age, most filmmakers lack the cultural confidence to tell a love story, so Anderson, instead, has made a movie about the beauty of trust. In their wild exploits — pursuing business scams, teasing the entertainment industry and Hollywood icons looming over exurban Encino, and often just running

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