Alana comes into her own, however, driving a big truck through the Hollywood Hills amid the oil embargo. She is paired up with Gary in his latest venture, a waterbed business, and that day, along with a team of young colleagues, they deliver and install the latest model to hairstylist-producer Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper, spinning the movie with a coked-up impression of Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend).
Gary is at least partly inspired by the adventures of Gary Goetzman, a child actor (and later producer) whose roles included the 1968 Lucille Ball-Henry Fonda comedy. Yours, mine and ours. (Holden, Ball and his film are given fictitious names in Licorice Pizza, which is curious because Peters is not. It’s not the kind of thing you’re supposed to wonder about while watching a movie.) Gary’s raw ambition, if not his cruelty, is a match for Daniel Plainview, the beast played by Daniel Day-Lewis in Anderson’s semi. -coherent there will be blood.
There is no doubt that Licorice Pizza is a lively, moment-to-moment entertaining film – Anderson and Michael Bauman’s sunny images of ’70s cars set to the strains of Gordon Lightfoot, Blood Sweat & Tears, The James Gang, et al. are hypnotic and keep the viewer moving forward despite the lack of a compelling story or main characters. But it exists in a world that has never heard of Earth Day, Vietnam, Watergate, or women’s liberation, and it has nothing to say about the world today.
Frankly, that’s the dilemma I face with many Anderson films, especially ghost yarn and inherent vice. He’s a skilful and talented director, and he knows how to infuse a film with verve and energy. But making movies for the sake of making movies, even when the result is entertaining, is a form of self-indulgence. Applauding authors whose themes are obscure and muddled, and whose characters remain enigmas, is useless.
When Anderson wrote Jon Peters into this movie, he must have realized that some viewers would remember Shampoo, Hal Ashby’s scathing 1975 satire on Hollywood and American amorality starring Warren Beatty as a Los Angeles hairdresser (inspired by Peters) who makes “house calls” to a dizzying array of women . The former hero is pleasure-seeking and happily oblivious until he receives the bill for his selfishness.
In Licorice Pizza, Anderson crafted a picaresque tale that alludes to, but does not question or criticize, the ethics of opportunism or how the dreams of the young are exploited by the powerful. Nothing and no one has the right to scratch a Gremlin, kill a buzz or derail an ambition. In short, to curdle the nostalgia.
‘Licorice Pizza’ is in theaters everywhere on December 25, 2021.