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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

Alana Haim’s breakout performance steers ‘Licorice Pizza’ to critical success

Jake Maynard | Photographer
The film takes place in the San Fernando Valley, where Haim grew up.

Grammy-nominated musician Alana Haim takes on the role of an unlikely feminist hero in acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest feature film, “Licorice Pizza.”

Haim, who comprises a third of the sister pop-rock band HAIM, starred opposite Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, in this story of maturation, love and self-reflection set in the 1970s San Fernando Valley. Anderson’s ninth feature film comes to life through Haim’s masterful breakout performance, which was invigorated by her familiarity with the setting, music and prior work in collaboration with Anderson.

“I just got to dive into this deep end and immerse myself in this process and just try to do my best,” Haim said at a collegiate press conference Monday. “And Paul was very patient with me and was my cheerleader through the whole thing.”

As I viewed the film, I felt completely engrossed in the almost tangible ’70s culture emanating through the screen into the movie theater. From the nostalgic costumes to the impeccably curated soundtrack, Haim said the film set felt like a “different world,” and the authenticity manifested itself beautifully in the movie.

“We basically lived in the ’70s all the time,” Haim said. “I mean, I hated leaving the set. We never had any sort of technology on set, like no one had phones, no one had anything like that. It was all very much like we were living in that time.”

Leading up to the release of the group’s newest album “Women in Music Pt. III” in April 2020, HAIM’s last live performance before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic took place in D.C. at Call Your Mother deli in Park View. Haim, who headlined the All Things Go music festival in Columbia, Md. last October, is slated to embark on a double continental tour with the band this spring, featuring a stop in the District on May 13.

Haim’s professional and personal relationship with Anderson has been years in the making after Anderson directed several HAIM music videos, like “Summer Girl” and “Now I’m In It.” Her debut performance earned her overwhelming critical praise and a Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a musical or comedy – and for substantial reason.

The character of Alana Kane fit well in line with Haim, herself. Anderson not only wrote the part of Kane with Haim in mind for the role, but Haim also grew up in the San Fernando Valley, where the film is set, so she felt comfortable with the region-specific dialogue and references Anderson wrote into the film. She noted the heavy influence of ’70s music on her band’s sound, which added to Haim’s snug fit into the role.

“It really wasn’t that out of my scope to be in a ’70s movie because it’s an era that I’ve always just loved and have been inspired by,” Haim said.

Along with 15-year-old Gary Valentine, an astray 25-year-old Kane goes on a myriad of elaborate adventures that drive her to question and examine her life, including the precise maneuvering of a U-Haul truck backwards down the Hollywood hills after the vehicle runs out of gas.

At the conclusion of her epic performance, she is deflated, and Valentine and her other teenage colleagues give her no credit for her poised and impressive work. Sitting alone on the curb, Kane sees a poster for a political candidate and decides to seize the opportunity to contribute to the campaign, using full force to project herself into an adult future, but this too turns out to be a mirage.

Through Kane’s ups and downs over the course of the character-driven film, the audience never quite knows what will happen next – an admirable hallmark of Anderson’s movies. Haim said much like her experience meeting Anderson and Hoffman prior to the development of the movie, Kane never knew which people would not only stay in her life but also end up meaning so much to her.

“With Paul, when we met him, we could have just met once and then carried on with life,” Haim said. “And he’s now my forever friend, and he’ll be in my life forever, and same thing with Cooper.”

While I’ve found prior Anderson films like “Boogie Nights” and “There Will Be Blood” to be inaccessible and unpalatable, the relatable and unpredictable journey of Haim’s character in “Licorice Pizza” situates the film as a must-watch.

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