Warning: This article contains major spoilers for “Licorice Pizza.”
Though “Licorice Pizza” takes place over an unspecified amount of time, it has a distinctly summer feel. Part of that is due to the perpetual sunshine of its Southern California setting, but it’s also a feeling produced by the many fleeting encounters the two leads experience over the course of the film.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s ninth feature film tells the story of Gary (Cooper Hoffman) and Alana (Alana Haim), two San Fernando Valley natives who form an unlikely friendship in the early 1970s. A precocious entrepreneur and former child actor, Gary ropes his older crush Alana into his adventures in theater, the waterbed industry, and local politics.
Like the machines in Gary’s pinball arcade, he and Alana richochet in and out each other’s lives, meeting several zany characters along the way. Short but memorable cameos are made by the likes of Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Maya Rudolph and John C. Reilly.
Between the volatile nature of their friendship and the many characters moving in and out of the story, there’s a lot to keep track of in “Licorice Pizza.” Here’s a breakdown of the events leading up to the final sequence and how Gary and Alana find their way back to each other.
A Pivot To Politics
If you partition “Licorice Pizza” according to Gary’s business schemes, his foray into the waterbed industry is the film’s second and lengthiest act. His store Soggy Bottom has a successful debut (or maybe it just becomes a popular hangout spot), but the business ends in failure thanks to the 1973 gas crisis. The nail in the coffin is a disastrous waterbed delivery to the house of jumpsuit-wearing egonmaniac Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper). Alana saves the day by maneuvering their massive delivery truck down a windy road without any fuel.
After that harrowing experience, Alana decides that she needs to get her life together and start acting her age (or at least start hanging out with more adults). She calls up an old classmate named Brian (Nate Mann), a staffer for city councilman Joel Wachs’ (Benny Safdie) first mayoral campaign. What could be more adult than getting involved in local politics?
Alana quickly becomes a favorite volunteer around the office, endearing herself to Wachs and Brian, the latter of whom is clearly smitten with her. But it isn’t long before Gary finds his way back to her as a videographer for Wachs’ campaign ads. Tensions build between them when Gary embarrasses Alana at a promo shoot; afterwards, an argument erupts when he learns that pinball is about to be legalized and decides to open his own arcade. “I’m cooler than you,” he snaps at her before storming off.
Drinks With The Councilman
While working the phones one day, Alana notices a man with long hair and a shirt emblazoned with the number 12 watching the office from across the street. She tells Brian to take care of it; when he doesn’t, she marches across the street and tells the man to get lost. “It’s a free country,” he says to her.
Later that night, Alana and Brian are about to kiss when they are interrupted by a phone call. It’s the councilman, inviting her to come meet him for a drink immediately. An excited Alana excuses herself by saying the councilman forgot his wallet.
When Alana arrives at the restaurant, she finds Councilman Wachs arguing with a male companion about their relationship. As they continue fighting, she notices the man in the number 12 shirt lurking outside. To her surprise, Councilman Wachs explains that this is why he summoned her. He wants Alana to take his “friend” (his lover) home to conceal that he is in a gay relationship, implying that the No. 12 man has been following them around for some time to try and out Wachs. (The real Joel Wachs was closeted until 1999, when he came out at age 60.) On their way home, Joel’s boyfriend and Alana bond over heartache and heartbreak.
One Last Run
Meanwhile, Gary has transformed the store formerly known as Soggy Bottom into Fat Bernie’s Pinball Palace. The opening is well-attended, save for Alana, whom he hasn’t spoken to since their fight. He asks her sisters Danielle (Danielle Haim) and Este (Este Haim) where she is, and they suggest he look for her at the campaign office.
After her interaction with Joel and his boyfriend, Alana has an overwhelming urge to make up with Gary. She searches for him at his favorite eatery, Tail O’ the Cock, but he’s nowhere to be found.
Gary and Alana separately run up and down Ventura Blvd., recalling earlier sequences of them running toward and beside one another. Finally, they collide in front of a movie theater, where they hug and fall over.
Hand in hand, they sprint to the pinball arcade. Gary gets up on a raised platform and announces her as “Mrs. Alana Valentine” in front of everyone; she glares and says “Idiot!”
When he catches up to her, they kiss. “I love you, Gary,” she says, and together they run off into the twilight.