Licorice Pizza Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

America, San Fernando Valley in California, 1973. Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is a 15-year-old schoolboy who looks somewhat older than his years. Gary is a very versatile person, very self-confident, but at the same time able to win over people, he also has an extraordinary business acumen: Gary created an advertising agency where his mother Anita (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) works. At the same time, Gary, as an actor, starred in a very famous production with Lucy Doolittle, in which many children and teenagers participated.

One day, while photographing students for a school photo album, Gary noticed the assistant photographer Alana Kane (Alana Haim). Alana is much older than Gary – she is already twenty-five years old, but Gary falls in love with a girl and begins to flirt with her. Alana is well aware that she cannot have any relationship with a fifteen-year-old, besides, the girl was brought up in a strict Jewish family, but Gary interested her in something, and such a strange friendship arose between them, which can hardly lead to a serious relationship.

And then we will be shown several stories from the life of Gary and Alana. The girl will accompany Gary on the press tour of the film, since Anita will not be able to accompany her son, and during the press tour she will meet the handsome actor Lance (Skyler Gisondo). Gary will open a water mattress store – in winter, gentlemen, they warm, in summer they save from the heat! Alana first meets Hollywood celebrity Jack Holden (Sean Penn), and then begins volunteering in the election campaign for mayor of city councilor Joel Watch (Benny Safdie).

The water mattress company will go bankrupt, but the enterprising Gary, having heard that arcade games will soon be legalized in the country, will invest in opening a game room.

Also, he, Alana and schoolchildren will have to complete the last order: to deliver a water mattress to the mansion of the famous film producer John Peters (Bradley Cooper).


What does it have to do with, you ask, licorice pizza (the original title of the painting is translated exactly like that)? First of all, licorice pizza is a slang term for large Long Play (LP) vinyl records. Licorice is black, the plates are round like pizza, so the abbreviation LP began to be deciphered as Licorice Pizza. Later, this term was used to refer to a chain of very popular vinyl record stores.

However, neither these shops nor this expression appear in the film at all: the director simply wanted to resurrect the corresponding times in the San Fernando Valley in California, where he was born and raised, with this title. In general, there is a lot of purely personal and nostalgic for the director in the film, however, in the character of Gary Paul, Thomas Anderson did not portray himself as a child at all: in 1973, the director was only three years old, he was born in 1970.

By the way, initially the poorly translated combination Soggy Bottom appeared as the name of the picture: that was the name of Gary’s water mattress store, and Alana in the film made fun of this name. In the Russian version, they didn’t get too smart with the name and translated it as “wet bottom”, but in general the adjective soggy means something like “wet and soft” and carries a somewhat negative connotation.

A certain prototype of Valentine was an old friend of the director – producer and actor Gary Goitzman. It was Gary who, at the age of fifteen, opened a water mattress store (the man who sells Gary mattresses was played by Leonardo di Caprio’s father), the story of the delivery of the mattress to the house of Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend John Peters really took place (though without the consequences that are shown in the film), Goitsman was also one of the first to open a salon with pinball and arcade games after the ban on these machines was lifted.

And the idea of ​​such a film came to the director at the moment when he, passing by some school, saw how an extremely self-confident fifteen-sixteen-year-old teenager was glued to a twenty-five-year-old employee of the school. I wonder, thought Paul Thomas, if she agrees to go out to dinner with him, then what can come of it at all?

As a result, he wrote the script for a nostalgic film about the times and places where he spent his childhood and youth, which told about love, growing up, friendship and trying to realize himself.

If we talk about the background of the creation of this picture, then it must be said that the work on the previous film “Phantom Thread” was very difficult for the director. (Yes, and I note that, in my opinion, the picture turned out to be rather unsuccessful.) After the release of the film, Daniel Day-Lewis announced his final retirement from the cinema (he announced this before, but then returned), and Paul Thomas Anderson plunged into prolonged depression.

He already had the next job in his plans – a complex, heavy and serious film, but he realized that he would not be able to stage it in such a state and that he needed some fairly simple and fun story that he could stage, working with well people you know, including your close relatives.

There is almost no information about the casting, but it seems that Paul Thomas originally planned to invite the role of Gary Cooper Hoffman, the son of his old and very close friend, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played prominent or major roles in five of Paul Thomas’ films. The director knew Cooper very well from childhood, often filmed him in home videos of the Anderson-Hoffman families and thought that Cooper would cope with the role. For Cooper, who at that time was seventeen years old, this was a big surprise, because he had never acted in a movie before, but Paul Thomas convinced him to try.

Alana Chaim in the picture also appeared not by chance. She is a member of the musical group Haim, consisting of three sisters: Este, Daniel and Alana. The director found out about this group when they released the Forever album. He really liked the album, he was discussing the disc at some party, and someone gave him the band’s email address. He wrote to them and invited the sisters to his place for dinner.

At the same time, there is a funny fact: the mother of the sisters was the director’s art teacher in elementary school. And when the family watched “Magnolia” or “Oil”, my mother liked to remind that she taught this guy. The sisters wanted to hide this fact from Paul Thomas, but Este nevertheless blabbed.

The group became very good friends with Paul Thomas and his family, and the director for the group shot seven videos after that. (Yes, yes, it was he who shot the clips for Haim.) And since Cooper often visited the director’s house, Alana herself said that she became like an older sister for him. Apparently, this prompted the director to give Alana the role of a screen heroine, whose name is the same as hers.

Alana was in no way sure that she could adequately play this role, and, as she said in an interview, every day, coming to the set, she was waiting for her to be fired. And when she waited until the last day of shooting, and she was never fired, she was very surprised.

Well, and a little backstory with Bradley Cooper, who played John Peters here. The actor at the moment when Paul Thomas called him to his film, was starring in Nightmare Alley by Guillermo del Toro. Filming was stopped for a long time due to the coronavirus madhouse, Bradley was sitting at home and was afraid of getting infected, and at that moment Anderson invited him to play a small role in his film. (Bradley himself and the real Jon Peters also have funny intersections, but more on that below.) The Searchlite studio, where Nightmare Alley was filmed, was strongly opposed, but Bradley could not refuse such a director, so he starred in the film.


Okay, wait, it looks like the story of creation has already gone beyond my usual review, and I haven’t even started talking about what Paul Thomas ended up with. Let’s talk about it.

“Licorice Pizza” is a fairly simple film outwardly: its entire plot in the announcement can easily be recounted in its entirety, which I basically did, but this will not affect the perception of the picture in any way, because the plot is not the point here. This is a very, very nostalgic, atmospheric and moody film. At the same time, childhood memories, childhood experiences, youthful love – all this can be shown in very, very different ways.

You can make a masterpiece out of such memories, as Federico Fellini did with Amarcord and Alfonso Cuaron with Roma, or you may not be able to embody all this in such a way that it is interesting and understandable to the audience, as it, alas, happened Andy Garcia with The Lost City.

Paul Thomas Anderson, without a doubt, succeeded in doing this. Despite the fact that this picture is completely different from his previous films, among which there is the most powerful film “Oil” with the amazing work of Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano, which I generally consider one of the best films I have ever seen seen, “Licorice Pizza” is amazingly good!

By the way, the style closest to this picture is the not-so-famous, but my favorite picture of this director “Love Knocking Down” – this is also such a romantic drama comedy (the term “tragicomedy” does not fit here) about two complete neurotics and freaks, who managed to find each other. Moreover, the male role there is played by – you won’t believe it – Adam Sandler, and you have to be a director like Paul Thomas Anderson for ADAM SANDLER to play downright amazing. And the second role was played by Emily Watson, but here she is just a really very strong actress.

(Well, I note that this director and Tom Cruise played, in my opinion, the best role in his life in one of the episodes of the same “Magnolia”.)

“Licorice Pizza” seems like a very simple picture, but there are very interesting moments in it. First of all, the story itself – a self-confident teenager is glued to a girl who is ten years older than him: well, really, this is such a slightly dangerous plot that can lead the narrator somewhere completely in the wrong direction. But the film just shows that this all leads the main characters to such a peculiar and strange friendship. Alana in the picture even asks Gary, “Listen, how did it happen that I hang out with your friends?”

Another interesting point is the selection of actors in terms of their appearance. Cooper Hoffman is, in general, a typical pimply teenager (only in terms of type), and not only does no one mask his acne, but it is quite possible that they were also specially drawn. Alana, from the point of view of the heroine of a teenage romantic comedy, according to cinema canons, is downright not very attractive, and the film crew does nothing to somehow embellish her: the girl in the film uses her own, very inept makeup.

So, both Cooper and Alana played just fine in this film! What seems downright incredible for the most perfect film debutants, for whom this is the first acting work – but they did it! And, interestingly, when I started watching this film, I didn’t know any background at all. I knew it was a new film from a great director, I was going to get to know him anyway. And when my wife and I started watching the picture, I said to her, pointing at Gary: “Look, really young Philip Seymour Hoffman,” and this actor was one of my favorites. And just looking at the list of actors, I realized that Cooper is the son of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

By the way, it is very interesting whether Cooper will continue his acting career, because here the role is just great. Moreover, the character turned out to be very, very natural: Gary is really a teenager, he is somewhat angular, behind external self-confidence he clearly hides some teenage problems and complexes, but there is no arrogance and rudeness in his behavior, he is just capable of a lot and demonstrates it, and Cooper’s character turned out to be interesting, bright and charismatic. And, as they say, try to play such a big role at the age of seventeen – Cooper did it!

Alana is still more interesting. She is, of course, the main character of the picture! Because her life and her experiences here are given the main screen time. And this happens for the first time in the films of this director, where, after all, the main characters have always been men. And here – pay attention even to the cover of the disc!

Alana did a great job playing her character. She had to act solely on her charisma, because usually young Hollywood stars start their careers by conquering the audience with their appearance, and only then it turns out whether they have real acting talent or whether everything is limited to appearance. But Alana did an excellent job with the role, which is all the more surprising, given that she had no experience.

By the way, the director himself said in an interview that both Cooper and Alana were quite allowed to improvise during the filming and many phrases from their dialogues that were included in the picture were invented by the actors themselves.

In secondary roles, several very eminent actors were occupied here. Sean Penn played the famous actor Jack Holden, whose prototype, no doubt, was William Holden, the star of The Bridge on the River Kwai and Sunset Boulevard. Penn portrayed this character perfectly, and his dinner with Alana, when Holden answers the girl with quotes from his films, is very funny, as is what happened next.

In this episode, Jack Holden is led on his motorcycle adventures by director Rex Blau, played by the great – at least in my opinion – musician Tom Waits, who loves to appear in various films in cameo roles. And the character of Rex Blau is apparently based on Sam Peckinpah, the director behind the 1969 cult film The Wild Bunch starring William Holden. By the way, Peckinpah also made a great film “Straw Dogs” and a film “Convoy” with Kris Kristofferson, which was very famous in the USSR (but not in the USA) (and I myself remember very well how I went to the cinema to see this film). Peckinpah has always been known for his somewhat outrageous behavior in public, spurred on by his close relationship with alcohol and drugs.

Bradley Cooper performed here as the famous Hollywood producer Jon Peters. The so-called man of difficult fate: he was sent to reform school at 12, at 14 he ran away from home and got a job in a hairdresser in New York, then returned to Los Angeles, where he became a fairly well-known hairdresser, met Barbra Streisand, who designed her a funny short wig for All for Pete, became her boyfriend for a while, and then became a famous Hollywood producer who started with the 1976 film A Star Is Born, and on his track record the Eastwick Witches, as well as several of the first Superman films and Batman in 1989.

Well, we remember that the recent Oscar-winning “A Star Is Born” directed by Bradley Cooper is in some way (very, frankly, conditional) a remake of the 1976 film, and Jon Peters is even listed as one of the producers in the new film, but after a series of sexual scandals, associated with Peters, Bradley Cooper stated that Peters had nothing to do with the production of the film, and he was indicated by the producers, they say, as recognition of his services in creating the old film.

Interestingly, Paul Thomas Anderson, when portraying Jon Peters in his film, turned to the producer himself for permission to show him exactly as he is shown in this film – when creating the image, Paul Thomas used all sorts of rumors about how Peters behaved in real life . Peters, when he read the script, said that he would not actually yell at Gary (and in fact, in the scene with the delivery of the mattress, almost everything was invented, because in reality Goitsman just brought him a mattress, John threw him the keys to the house and dumped him in the cinema), but he did not object to this scene and asked the director to use his favorite pikapersky phrase about a peanut butter sandwich in the film – and this phrase is there.

Bradley Cooper played this role simply magnificently – it’s downright decoration of an already excellent film, and it was staged very well. By the way, Alana driving a multi-ton truck is not computer graphics and not shooting any layouts. The actress really took a two-month driving course for such trucks, and it was all filmed live. And the excitement in Alana’s eyes when she is forced to drive such a truck is completely genuine.

Also of note is Benny Safdie, who played mayoral candidate Joel Wax in the film’s interesting section of Alana’s volunteering. And Joel Wax, who was forced to hide his homosexuality, was inspired by the real-life man Harvey Milk – and this man was played by Sean Penn in the biopic My Name is Harvey Milk.

By the way, one more of the interesting moments – as many as three actor-directors starred here. Bradley Cooper directed A Star Is Born, Sean Penn directed several films (most famously Into the Wild) and video clips, Benny Safdie also directed several films, including the very good Good Time and Diamonds in the Rough.

Well, about a certain nepotism, which the director literally planted in this film. Paul Thomas’ wife, actress Maya Rudolph, and his children play here. The Haim family is here and is simply present in full force: Alana, her two sisters, and Alana’s mother and father were played by her real parents. Moreover, the scene when Alana brings Lance to the family, and he refuses to read the text from the holy book during Shabbat, Alana herself told the director, and he included it in the script. Only in reality it was on Passover, and the middle sister of the actress brought her boyfriend. And it became such an embarrassing family joke.

Well, it’s time to recap. An excellent movie that I enjoyed watching a lot. Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim are top notch in their debut roles and I really hope they have a great acting future. The film seems to be simple, but absolutely wonderful, nostalgic and romantic, and it is very smooth from beginning to end and does not drag out at all – on the contrary, I wanted it to go on and on.

In my opinion, this is one of the best films of 2021. Yes, it is not at all as powerful as this director’s “Magnolia” or “Oil”, but you need to have a special talent to create such a mood in such a seemingly very simple film and make it so cool. Paul Thomas Anderson can do it, he proved it!

Well, as usual, a few photos of real characters from the film.

Jon Peters and Barbra Streisand.

Actor William Holden.

Gary Goitzman and Cooper Hoffman.

Haim group.

PS The film has three Oscar nominations, four Golden Globe nominations and five BAFTA nominations. Won only a BAFTA nomination for “Best Original Screenplay”.

Licorice Pizza review


Paul Thomas Anderson


Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, Skyler Gisondo, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, John Michael Higgins, Christine Ebersole, Harriet Sansom Harris, Ryan Heffington, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph

Budget: $40 million
Worldwide box office:
$32 million
Romantic drama comedy,
133 min.

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