Review: ‘Licorice Pizza’ offers a slice of complex nostalgia

Like many leads in Paul Thomas Anderson films, Alana (Alana Haim) is adrift. It’s 1973, she’s 25, and she can’t figure what she wants or where her place is in the world.

By contrast, Gary (Cooper Hoffman) seems uniquely made for the moment. At 15, he seems fearless. He recklessly throws around his charisma. He comes across not so much as a kid playing an adult but a kid who’s never been told that some things come with age.

Gary wasn’t forced to grow up too soon; he just really likes being a kid everyone treats like an adult.

When they first meet, him on his way to school photos, her working as the handsy photographer’s (Patrick Hoelck) helper, it is no wonder he seems so entirely in control of the conversation.

She’s miserable, adrift, and perhaps a bit delighted to have someone so unabashedly pursue her. On the other hand, he’s confident, fully in his element, and willing to take a flyer on being a flirt because that’s Gary’s way. He takes almost nothing seriously, so he’ll try anything.

This opening is shot through with that kind of giddy “too much energy” excitement. The patter between Hoffman and Haim comes so fast and flippant it feels screwball.