What’s Wrong with “Licorice Pizza” and Movies Like it

How the film industry romanticizes relationship age gaps.

On January 5th, 2022, my friend and I went to watch the movie Licorice Pizza, and it was terrible.

Gary Valentine and Alana Kane after a dinner out in the San Fernando Valley. (Universal Studios)

Licorice Pizza, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is a coming-of-age drama film released toward the end of 2021. It focuses on a 15-year-old boy, Gary Valentine, and his relationship with 25-year-old Alana Kane. The two meet at Gary’s school picture day while Alana was working as a photographer’s assistant. Gary made advances towards Alana, which she initially rejected, explaining that she is 25, and he is a child. Despite this, she still meets him for dinner that night. Throughout the movie, their relationship fluctuates between being romantic and platonic. Either way, the age gap is shockingly large.

Although the movie was directed and edited well, age gaps like these are far too common within the film industry. Popular movies like Call Me by Your Name and Lost in Translation romanticize criminal age gaps in romantic relationships involving minors. Viewers are often too absorbed in the aesthetic of the film to really care about the issue at hand.

A “Licorice Pizza” promotional poster where the 70s aesthetic is apparent.

Directors tend to make their movies aesthetically pleasing by focusing on the setting of the film. They use scenic shots and attractive actors that distract from the relationship being presented. As a result of this, the viewer idolizes the aesthetic of the film and by extension, the pedophilic relationship. In Licorice Pizza, the aesthetic Anderson went for was clearly the 70s. The soundtrack includes famous artists from that time period like David Bowie and Paul McCartney. The wardrobe was also a large contributor in making the aesthetic come to life. Alana Kane wears long sleeve floral dresses with typical 70s patterns and people are often seen wearing bell-bottom pants, a known fashion trend from that decade.

However, the idolization of these relationships is not something that should be happening. Relationships with such large age gaps like in Licorice Pizza are not healthy in real life, and teenagers who are romantically involved with someone significantly older than them often end up in very emotionally damaging relationships. According to a publication from BMC Psychiatry on the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health website, couples with larger age gaps have more severe depression symptoms. The investigation on the impact of age difference in relationships concluded that “When the age gap was 3 years or more, the estimated severity of depressive symptoms was 0.645 higher (SE = 0.109, p < .0001) than that of same-aged couples.” (Kim, Park, et al.)

In short, movies such as these present an idealistic depiction of age gaps in relationships that are not reflective of real life.