Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Licorice Pizza’ Looks Great, But How Does Actual Licorice Pizza Taste?

The words “boogie nights” are never said in Boogie Nights. Same with “there will be blood” in There Will Be Blood and “phantom thread” in Phantom Thread. Paul Thomas Anderson is not one for titular lines, but I hope he makes an exception for Licorice Pizza. It’s the best way to ensure two standing ovations: one when the film is over (Adam Driver better be in the audience, and he better be smoking a cigarette), and another when halfway through the film, Bradley Cooper’s character looks down at his dinner and says, “This sure is a good slice of licorice pizza.” The theater crowd goes wild.

Or at least I would, because as a fan of the Favorite Movie Lines Twitter account, I turn into the Leo pointing meme every time someone says the title of the movie in the movie. “Looking back, that Addams family really did have values.”

The words “licorice pizza” will likely be said in Licorice Pizza, PTA’s nostalgic new movie starring Cooper, Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman (Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son), Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Benny Safdie, and Maya Rudolph. It’s the name of a Southern California record store chain from the 1970s, when Anderson grew up and his film is set. “The store tried to lure local music fans with commercials aired during American Bandstand and Soul Train. They offered a money-back guarantee on records and heavily promoted local concerts, drawing fans in to buy the music before or after a big concert,” according to Los Angeles Magazine. Blondie’s Debbie Harry was a fan.

As for the origin of the name:

It comes from a throwaway joke on the album Bud & Travis… In Concert recorded live at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1960. The comedy/folk duo are on a self-deprecating roll about how unsuccessful their record was, remarking that it had “sesame seeds on the other side” and could be played on a Waring blender. Just before going into their version of La Bamba, they mention that the platter was being sold at feed stores as a “licorice pizza.”

Here’s a taste of Bud and Travis:

Speaking of taste: following the release of the Licorice Pizza trailer, I wanted to know what licorice pizza tasted like and report my findings to the hungry boys out there. Because it sounds… I believe “terrible” is the word. I pride myself on being open-minded, but not when it comes to pizza. There’s a reason pepperoni is the non-cheese default option: it works. Chicken and meatballs are great, too. But pineapple? Anchovies? Mushrooms? Get out of here. Whoever put “Dill Pickle Hamburger Pizza” number one on this list of 25 Deliciously Weird Pizzas You Should Definitely Try doesn’t deserve pizza — or even worse, they can only order pizza from Papa John’s. But because PTA is one of my favorite directors, and pizza is one of my favorite foods, and Alana is one of my favorite Haim sisters, I gave pizza with licorice a shot. I learned two things:

1. Red-colored Twizzlers aren’t technically licorice. The candy is “usually fruit-flavored by artificial or natural means, and do not contain licorice flavoring,” Kelila Jaffe, Food Program Coordinator for the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU, told the Huffington Post. The word “licorice” does not appear on the brand’s packaging, with the exception of black Twizzlers which do, in fact, count as licorice. I ate the black Twizzlers.

2. Licorice pizza is pretty good. OK, maybe that’s overstating it, but the licorice (which I’m generally not a fan of) doesn’t take too much away from the superior pizza. For this culinary experiment, I went to three locations where I live in Austin, Texas: Home Slice (cheese), Giovanni’s Pizza Stand (pepperoni and basil) and my favorite local pizza joint, Domino’s (cheese). I happily finished all three, and in the case of the pepperoni pizza, I found the sweetness to be a nice compliment to the greasy cups.


It may surprise you that Robert Elswit did not do the cinematography for these photos.

Anyway, the New York-style slices worked better than the Domino’s pie because they were easier to fold; it trapped the licorice like a pig in a blanket. Honestly, I couldn’t even taste the candy after the first bite. Chewing something rubber-y while eating pizza was slightly unpleasant, but Twizzlers are soft enough that it wasn’t a huge deal. Would I eat licorice pizza again, though? No, of course not. I respect pizza too much to do that.

But licorice pizza wasn’t the nightmare that I was expecting it to be. The real nightmare is having to wait until November 26 to see Licorice Pizza (the wide release isn’t until December 25). Also: candy corn pizza. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.