Paul Thomas Anderson has directed some of the most celebrated films of both the 20th and 21st century. From There Will Be Blood to Boogie Nights, from The Master to Punch Drunk Love, the filmmaker has proved to be a massive talent behind the camera. His latest film, Licorice Pizza, is already receiving rave reviews and earning awards recognition. The film, which is set in 1973 San Fernando Valley, focuses on the bond formed between child-actor and hustler Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and his crush Alana Kane (Alana Haim), both finding their way in life and maybe, just maybe, finding love. With a large supporting cast, including Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, and Benny Safdie, a relaxed tone, and Anderson’s committed direction, it is easy to see why so many people are falling in love with the film.
Of course, Licorice Pizza has also been the subject of controversy, with some questioning the central romance between a 15-year-old boy and a 25-year-old woman, but stories like this have been done before. Whether it be capturing a certain nostalgic era, an unlikely romance, or painting an honest picture of adolescence, these are films that share common ground with Anderson’s latest film.
Anderon’s filmography is fairly diverse, though some films show strands of similar DNA. Anderson’s sophomore feature, Boogie Nights is the one film that holds the most common ground with Licorice Pizza. The film is similarly set in 70s San Fernando Valley but looks at a different side of the film business: the adult film industry. Young Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is taken under the wing of porn filmmaker Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and becomes the super-star Dirk Diggler.
A film about porn is something that would make many scoff, but the way Anderson paints the era makes Boogie Nights relentlessly watchable. Much like Licorice Pizza, the film has a loaded cast alongside Wahlberg and Reynolds, including Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, Alfred Molina, William H. Macy, and Heather Graham. While this is surely not a film to watch with the whole family, Boogie Nights is the perfect introduction to Anderson’s sensibilities as a filmmaker, from his direction to his humor and world-building.
Before the age gap in Licorice Pizza was met with draining discourse, another 70s coming-of-age film featured a younger teen falling in love with an older woman: Cameron Crowe‘s classic Almost Famous. The film focuses on William (Patrick Fugit), a 15-year old music journalist, who is given the opportunity of a lifetime when Rolling Stone magazine hires him to interview and write a piece on the rising band Stillwater. While traveling the road with the rock band he meets the enigmatic and gorgeous groupie Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) and starts to fall head over heels in love.
Crowe is no stranger to delivering crowd-pleasers including Jerry Maguire, Say Anything, and We Bought A Zoo; Almost Famous is no different. Combining themes of first loves, family, and classic rock, Almost Famous is a film that encapsulates the 70s to those who weren’t around at the time. Plus, you can never go wrong with Frances McDormand in your movie, can you?
Greta Gerwig blessed the world with one of the greatest directorial debuts of the 21st century in the coming-of-age dramedy Lady Bird. Much like Licorice Pizza, the film takes a less story-focused approach and adopts a more relaxed aura that makes the film feel all the more genuine. The film focuses on Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), a 17-year-old high school senior at a Catholic school in Sacramento. We follow Lady as she navigates her relationship with her loving but stressed mother (Laurie Metcalf), deals with losing her virginity to the Catholic school bad boy (Timothée Chalamet), manages her turbulent relationship with her best friend (Beanie Feldstein), and tries to get into an east coast college.
Lady Bird feels authentic and poignantly captures the angst and high emotions of being a teenager. Ronan gives arguably her strongest performance as the title character and Metcalf has never been better than she is here. Despite coming out only four years ago, Lady Bird has already become a staple of the coming-of-age genre.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Many period pieces try to recapture an era in a way that truly transports audiences back in time, combining new and old school filming techniques, but very few films have come close to how Quentin Tarantino did it in his 2019 Oscar-winning film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Much like Anderson makes the 70s San Fernando Valley a character in Licorice Pizza, Tarantino develops and fleshes out 60s Hollywood so much so that it really is the main character of the film, even over Leonardo DiCaprio‘s Rick Dalton. With the Manson murders serving as a backdrop, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood follows fading TV star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt double/best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) on a quest to give Dalton a second chance. Dalton’s next-door neighbor also just happens to be Hollywood icon, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).
While loose on story, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood feels much more like Tarantino’s take on a hangout movie. The film also follows Dalton, Booth, and Tate in their day-to-day lives leading up to the events of the night of August 9, 1969, but it is told in the classic Tarantino revisionist style.
Dazed & Confused
Richard Linklater is the unofficial king of hangout movies. The Before Trilogy, Everybody Wants Some!!, and Slacker are just some of the examples of Linklater’s take on the subgenre. Linklater has also given audiences acclaimed films such as the ambitious Oscar-winner Boyhood and School Of Rock. However, it’s Dazed & Confused that is Linklater’s defining film, and for good reason. The influence the 1991 film had, on not just Linklater’s career, but on coming-of-age films, is remarkable. Set in Austin during May 1976, Dazed & Confused follows a group of high schoolers and middle schoolers on their last day of school with drugs, drinking, sex, and shenanigans galore.
Another bright spot is that the film introduced the world to future Best Actor winner Matthew McConaughey in the iconic role of Wooderson, which gave us the iconic line, “Alright, alright, alright.” Much like Licorice Pizza, Dazed & Confused doesn’t sugarcoat adolescence, instead, it paints an honest picture of teenage rebellion and debauchery. It’s the hangout movie to rule all hangout movies.
Big Time Adolescence
2020 was the breakout year for Pete Davidson. After joining Saturday Night Live in 2014, Davidson was all over the place in 2020, From his Netflix stand-up special Alive From New York to the Judd Apatow-directed The King Of Staten Island (in the tradition of other comedians becoming A-list stars with an Apatow movie), to the highly underrated Big Time Adolescence by Jason Orley. The teen comedy follows 16-year-old Monroe (Griffin Gluck), an unpopular high schooler whose best friend just so happens to be his older sister’s ex-boyfriend Zeke (Davidson), a college dropout and drug dealer. As Monroe starts taking advice from Gluck, his life starts to spin out of control.
Much like Licorice Pizza, Big Time Adolescence puts its young protagonists into adult situations allowing the audience to see edgier topics through the lens of the youth. Gluck’s Monroe starts out not having as much experience as Hoffman’s Gary Valentine, but over the course of the film, he begins to gain more and more of an edge. While not a perfect movie, and certainly not at the same high-caliber as some of the other films on this list, Big Time Adolescence is a worthwhile watch.
While films like Licorice Pizza and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood transport audiences back to the 70s and 60s by employing both past and present filmmaking techniques, Jonah Hill‘s directorial debut, mid90s, feels as if it was ripped right out from the 90s arthouse scene. The film chronicles the adventures of Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a 13-year-old who lives with his single mother (Katherine Waterston) and his abusive older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). When Stevie discovers his passion for skateboarding, he befriends a group of rebellious skaters who try to guide him through his day-to-day life.
mid90s feels almost like an early Linklater film, one that is more focused on creating a relaxed and easy-going atmosphere rather than presenting a larger-than-life conflict. It’s a quick watch, clocking in at only 85 minutes, but still manages to flesh out the characters in a way that makes the film feel endearingly human.