The Side Players of LICORICE PIZZA

My top five favorite supporting characters of PTA’s most recent effort

One of the most acclaimed movies of last year, Licorice Pizza racked up countless accolades and nominations from virtually every critics’ group that saw it. Writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson’s ode to youth and the 1970s largely won over audiences thanks to its free-flowing narrative, hilarious dialogue, and some of the most amazing chemistry that’s ever existed between two movie leads. 
The film follows 16-year-old child star and aspiring entrepreneur Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman), who develops an instant crush on 20-something Alana (Alana Haim), the youngest of three sisters who lives at home with her family as she toils away at a nothing job. What starts as a puppy dog crush ends up leading to a series of Los Angeles adventures throughout the summer of1973 that neither of them will soon forget.

Anderson’s film is a hilarious and earnest delight from start to finish with its slice-of-life sensibilities and whimsical nature. However, rather than give yet another straight review of one of the most praised films of last year, I thought I’d pay tribute to my favorite side characters in Licorice Pizza, all of whom play brief yet instrumental roles in shaping the destiny of the movie’s two captivating main characters. 
Este (Este Haim)
Alana’s older sister (who is played by Haim’s real-life sister and bandmate) may not say much during Licorice Pizza, but Este’s main scene is a hilarious one that gives us a small hint into the kind of sisterly torture she’s inflicted on her younger sibling. In the middle of berating her dad for embarrassing a potential boyfriend at dinner, Alana immediately looks at her sister and shouts, “Este, don’t you even look at me!” Este keeps quiet as Alana accuses her of being so perfect that she can’t help but be judgmental about the latter’s life choices, to which Este dryly replies, “I mean…” before casually walking off. It’s a great insight into Alana’s home life, and Este Haim’s pitch-perfect deadpan leads to one of Licorice Pizza’s first big laughs.

Steve (Ryan Heffington)
He may only appear in the background, but Ryan Heffington’s Steve still manages to make an impression in his own right. As the harried assistant to Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper), Steve does little else but try and make sure his boss (and his super-famous girlfriend Barbra Streisand) are kept happy. Everything about Steve’s demeanor, including the way he tries to maintain a sense of calm even when he’s running, shows a man living in a constant state of frazzled with his perfectly coordinated outfit masking a fear that the power players he works for are unhappy. Steve doesn’t have much dialogue, but when he says to one of Gary’s young friends: “I used to work for Julie Andrews…she was difficult,” he humorously pays homage to the many tortured assistants out there.

Mary Grady (Harriet Samson Harris)
Harris famously brought one of the most hilariously ruthless agents to life for multiple seasons on Frasier. Here, she tops that iconic character with a single scene as Mary Grady, Gary’s longtime agent whom the audience meets when he takes Alana to her office in the hopes that she will take her on as a client. From the get-go, Mary is shown to be a no-nonsense, cut-to-the-chase kind of woman with very little filter and a flair that’s all her own. After sizing up Alana, she gives the young woman her assessment of her by stating: “You come here trying to be all pretty for me, but really, you remind me… of a dog. Of an English pit bull dog… with sex appeal. And… a very Jewish nose.” Brassy as all get out, Harris continues her streak of playing PTA characters who would also make great Halloween costumes.

Lucy Doolittle (Christine Ebersole)

Another character who only enjoys the briefest of moments, but makes one of the most hysterical of imprints remains Lucy Doolittle (Christine Ebersole). The legendary red-headed actress of film and TV is a clear send-up of Lucille Ball. Seen performing on stage with the gaggle of kids she’s just starred alongside in a Your, Mine and Ours type of show, Lucy’s smile is permanently fixed. It’s a smile that drops for a split second, however, when co-star Gary hits her behind the head with a pillow in an unplanned move, leading to a behind-the-scenes tirade from Lucy toward the smirking teenager. It’s a good-natured dig at the reputation some felt Ball had and another side trip in a movie that’s wonderfully full of them.

Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper)

The only character in Licorice Pizza based on a real person is also the only one who threatens to walk away with the entire movie, despite only having a small handful of scenes. When Cooper shows up as Peters, he unleashes such a hurricane of ego, intensity, and hilarity, that it makes you instantly wish the movie would follow him around for longer than it does. The left-field questions he asks, his adrenaline-filled persona, the incredibly specific way he pronounces “Streisand”- all of it works in such a mad way, that it launches the movie into another realm. The actor earned a lot of awards buzz for his portrayal of the legendary (and still living) producer, and rightfully so. In just a few scenes, Cooper and Anderson show the wildness of 1970s Los Angeles through this larger-than-life figure in a way that Licorice Pizza’s young protagonists never could.

Licorice Pizza is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

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