Study Guide: Licorice Pizza

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LICORICE PIZZA is the 9th feature film from director Paul Thomas Anderson. Though Anderson is known for his long-term working relationships with actors like Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, and Daniel-Day Lewis, this film stars two newcomers to acting: Alana Haim (age 29) and Cooper Hoffman (age 18).

“I wonder what it was like to walk into a club of 50 people and see U2 when they were 19 years old. I hope audiences can feel that way looking at them. ‘Who the hell are these people, and why are they on my huge movie screen?’” (Via)

Though you may have seen Haim on our huge movie screen in 2017, when the Hollywood showed VALENTINE, a 35mm short directed by Anderson and featuring Alana’s band HAIM (her sisters-slash-bandmates also cameo in LICORICE PIZZA). Anderson and the band have been collaborating on music videos ever since, but this film marks Alana’s first real foray into acting.

John C. Reilly for Interview Magazine: Had you acted before? Did you ever do a school play?

ALANA HAIM: I played the Wicked Witch of the West, twice.

More pointedly, in a 2020 interview with The Chicks: “I hate being on camera. Being on stage is totally fine, but when it comes to music videos, I’m always like, “Are my eyes crossed?” (They are not; acclaim for her performance has been universal.)

Cooper Hoffman, meanwhile, is the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who worked with Anderson on five films (HARD EIGHT, BOOGIE NIGHTS, PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, MAGNOLIA, and THE MASTER) before his death in 2014.

The two novice actors had immediate chemistry, according to Anderson.

“[Their first read] was so bad, but it was magical… It was bad in all the best ways. As a director, in a way you don’t want it to be perfect. You want the joy of seeing how they interact, and to know that that's the only thing that matters. We'll get the words; that's the easy part. But there was this incredible connection between the two of them. It made her feel younger and made him feel older and something just really wonderful happened.”

The age difference between the characters was baked into LICORICE PIZZA’s concept from the start. Anderson can pinpoint the precise moment the idea for the film occurred to him:

“About 20 years ago I was taking a walk around my neighborhood... It was Picture Day [at the neighborhood school] and there was a blacktop full of kids in line. I saw this one kid nagging at this girl who worked for the company clearly trying to get a date or get her phone number. And it was a terrific premise: What would happen if he actually got the phone number? What would happen if against all her better judgment she turned up at the date? It was a very classic screwball comedy idea in many ways.”

He adds:

“I used to think about GLORIA, that great John Cassavetes movie. There’s a little Puerto Rican boy and he’s always screaming at Gena Rowland, ‘I am the man! I am the man! You must listen to me!’”

Hoffman’s character in LICORICE PIZZA is inspired by Anderson’s friend (and Tom Hanks’ producing partner) Gary Goetzman. “This story comes from real-life episodes that happened to [Gary],” Anderson has said. “He was a child actor—check, that’s a terrific story. He needed to get to The Ed Sullivan Show and didn’t have a chaperone, so he got a burlesque dancer to take him there—that’s fantastic.” He also did, in fact, own a waterbed store.

Haim: I had never been on a waterbed before, let me tell you that. We had waterbed school.

Time Magazine: Meaning?

Haim: Meaning we were starting a waterbed company and you can’t start a waterbed company without knowing how to put together a waterbed, with a headboard and the vinyl. You have to know what kind of seam works for the Arabian vinyl.

Anderson: Years of working with Daniel Day-Lewis has taught me a few things.

While watching LICORICE PIZZA, here are some other films to consider: AMERICAN GRAFFITI, the seminal teen movie about kids in cars. The LA-centric films of Robert Altman (in particular THE LONG GOODBYE) and Hal Ashby (Bradley Cooper’s character in LICORICE PIZZA is modeled on Jon Peters, who also inspired Warren Beatty’s character in Ashby’s SHAMPOO). ALOHA, BOBBY AND ROSE, another great ’70s LA romance. All available to rent, of course, at Movie Madness.

(Irrelevant but interesting side note, while we are on the subject of Paul Thomas Anderson: His production company, Ghoulardi Film Company, was named for a character played by his father, Ernie Anderson, on Channel 8 in Cleveland in the 1960s. Anderson’s character “Ghoulardi” was a wildly popular late-night horror host and presenter. Here’s Ernie on Letterman, and here’s a short doc about the Ghouliardi character.)


--- Written by Alison Hallett and brought to you by Movie Madness University, where movie lovers go to learn stuff™. For more details on Movie Madness University, as well as our upcoming classes, visit hollywoodtheatre.org/mmu.