Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” (2021); Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” (2021) Credit: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Love is in the air –– and on the big and small screens thanks to Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” (2021) and Analeine Cal y Mayor’s “Book of Love” (2022), respectively.

Ever since Anderson (aka PTA) made his underrated masterpiece “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002), he’s shown how to redefine the rom-com by ignoring genre tropes. As with his romantic dramedy “Phantom Thread” (2017), PTA creates quirky characters who use their eccentricities to manage their relationships in the name of love.

This dynamic is front and center in his most recent and most lighthearted movie “Licorice Pizza.” Set in the San Fernando Valley in 1973, the film presents a “will they or won’t they” flirtation between 15-year-old actor and entrepreneur Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and the target of his attention, Alana (Alana Haim), a lackluster 28-year-old who says she’s 25.

Because of their age difference, Alana dismisses Gary’s romantic overtures. Yet she’s inspired by his go-getter attitude and soon the two are working together on Gary’s various endeavors which include selling and installing waterbeds. Like the now-defunct Licorice Pizza record stores, waterbeds were all the rage during the 1970s but didn’t last much past the mid-’80s.

As such, there’s a sense of impermanence and impending nostalgia that lingers overhead while present adventures and boundless energy fuel the youthful characters as they explore their personal and professional options throughout the film’s 2-hour and 13-minute runtime.

Along the way, they encounter volatile situations with Hollywood heavies such as real-life hairdresser-turned-film producer Jon Peters, hilariously played by a scene-stealing Bradley Cooper, and Jack Holden (based on the late actor William Holden) brought to life by Sean Penn.

The late Philip Seymour Hoffman (who often worked with PTA) is the father of the film’s lead. Yet the physicality and brash optimism Cooper Hoffman exudes onscreen is more reminiscent of a young Albert Finney. Hoffman’s boyish charisma, along with Haim’s authentic look, draws viewers into this highly enjoyable film.

Deservedly nominated for Oscar’s Best Motion Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director, “Licorice Pizza” is a laugh out loud, pro-love movie that’s rare to find. This is obvious when compared to the majority of lesser rom-coms released all of the time.

Enter “Book of Love.”

Sam Claflin and Verónica Echegu in Analeine Cal y Mayor’s “Book of Love” (2022); Courtesy of Amazon Prime

Primarily shot in Mexico, the 106-minute rom-com adheres to the cliché that opposites attract. In this case, they are Mexican native Maria Rodríguez (Verónica Echegui), a single mother who translates an unsuccessful, sexless novel called “The Sensible Heart” and the publication’s uptight British author Henry Copper (Sam Claflin).

Unbeknownst to Copper, Maria has spiced up his writing by adding hot sex scenes that turn the boring bargain book into a bestseller. Instead of celebrating this success, Maria and Henry exhibit disdain for each other while promoting the book. He’s angry she changed his words; she’s resentful for not getting credit for her input.

But when Henry’s publisher (Lucy Punch) contracts the two to co-write a novel together, their connection changes for the better. Now on equal ground, the collaborators can let their walls down and share their ideas as well as their affection for each other. That is, until a third party interferes to challenge the trust in their budding relationship.

Considering the familiar formula in Cal y Mayor and David Quantick’s bilingual script, it’s safe to assume the couple will reunite via a public declaration of love. Fortunately, this predictability doesn’t detract from the film’s modest charms. Despite its shortcomings, the unpretentious production has a sincere tone that translates into a well-meaning movie.

“Book of Love” is rated 16+ and is moderately recommended to stream on Amazon Prime. The R-rated “Licorice Pizza” is currently playing in theaters and is highly recommended.

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Janet Arvia

Ms. Arvia is a Rebellious columnist and movie critic; entertainment ghostwriter; award-winning artist; and grant-winning filmmaker.