Licorice Pizza and age dynamics in courtship
On Christmas day 2021, I went to see Licorice Pizza at Milwaukee’s freshly renovated Oriental Theater with my older brother. After throwing an avocado-related temper tantrum and declaring I “didn’t want to go,” we indeed drove an hour south from the perpetually sleeping township of Kohler, Wisconsin. The theater was beautiful.
Does the film have to be particularly meaningful to be fun?
No, Licorice Pizza was somewhat fun while being inconsequential, like Boyhood (2014).
Does the film have anything to say?
Maybe, mostly about youth, love, entrepreneurship, and looseness of the 70s.
Did the film include some fun sequences and good performances?
Yes, Bradley Cooper does a great job playing himself.
Are there representations that bother me in the film?
Yes, let’s explore them.
PTA’s latest is boring regardless of if it’s borderline pedophilic or racist. I’d like to note my privileged status as both a white male (can relate to those who think they love this movie) and a young person (not wearing boomer nostalgia/film iconography googles).
Am I bothered by the age gap between Alana and Gary?
Somewhat. I think it’s pretty obvious that the film takes place over multiple years. You can’t open and close multiple businesses in one summer. Although not explicitly stated, Gary is probably not 15 years old the entire film. By the time he kisses Alana, he’s probably 18, which makes her 28. When she exposes herself to him, he’s likely under 18.
The depiction likely says more about Paul Thomas Anderson, his desires at that age, and young men’s assumption of interest from older women (that almost never exists).
Alana and Gary’s mix of friendship and flirtation doesn’t disgust me. I have extended family members, who are married to people two decades their junior. The relationship started as taboo and became love, from what I understand. References of Gary being “groomed” by Alana are bringing sensibilities (which I understand and agree with) to a film that is near masterbatory in its nostalgia.
Alana has a few interesting moments, namely the semi-truck scene, but she didn’t feel well-rounded. For her to be billed as the lead, doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Gary isn’t particularly deep either.
This brings back me to the circular conclusion, this isn’t a film about character arcs or lessons. It’s a vibe for boomers…near boomers…or whatever generation is older than millennials.
Am I bothered by the depiction of Asian people in the movie?
Yes. I think PTA was fucking lazy when creating the dynamic between Jerry Frick (played by John Michael Higgins) and his wife. Frick is a white man. He speaks English in an insultingly stereotypical manner to a woman who demonstrates she can understand English. These two are allegedly married. Does this happen all the time?
If one wants to call the representation of Asian culture in Licorice Pizza a commentary on media from that period, it’s still lazy. The depiction is not overwhelmingly funny, cutting, historically driven, or interesting enough to justify the racism. That’s not even asking a white male director to acknowledge racism with tact and self-awareness.
If you’re bothered by that, what are you going to do?
It’s pretty easy to deny this movie's importance in my life. If I don’t actively revisit it, I doubt it will dominate movie culture for decades to come. It’s not Citizen Kane, Star Wars, Marvel, or Casablanca…so…
What I do focus on is voting with my cinema dollars. I try to pay for movies that I agree with morally or showcase diverse voices.
We can make these kinds of films a starting point for other conversations around representation.
Don’t let the internet convince you that one demographic or another thinks in one uniform way. Each individual has variations in their beliefs regarding any subject matter, let alone one that is intersectional, generational and is becoming fundamental in film.
Support people that make great things.
Think in context. Will this movie matter in 5 years? Not if you let it.