Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.
(The film premiered November 26th and is currently playing in theaters nationwide.)
It’s hard to imagine another actor occupying as much screen time in their film debut than Alana Haim does in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza. That is, until you meet her co-star Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is also making his big-screen debut in the film. Two novices; two leads; one big swing for the fences for the accomplished filmmaker.
Amazingly, it works.
Haim plays Alana (big stretch), a young woman on a perpetual journey of self-discovery. We first meet her working at a yearbook photo company at a middle school (incidentally, the one I attended: Portola) in Anderson’s old-stomping grounds: California’s San Fernando Valley.
Almost comically fast – maybe one minute into the movie – Alana meets Gary (Hoffman), who turns his precocious charm up to 11. Alana tries to repel Gary like a nagging mosquito at first – but Gary keeps coming. Age doesn’t matter to him and his aggressive pursuit of Alana is almost comical at first. But Alana keeps listening to Gary and ends up at dinner with him in a scene that depicts Gary staring at her – and her looking away from him for almost the scene’s entirety.
Soon enough, Alana finds herself on a trip to New York serving as Gary’s adult chaperone for his next acting job. Their relationship grows from there – and is the centerpiece of a movie that shows the two of them co-conspiring in all sorts of shenanigans – before entering into a business partnership. Namely, selling waterbeds – and if you’ve ever pondered what the most enticing sales pitch to a male customer looking to buy a waterbed sounds like, see: Licorice Pizza. It’s a scene that encapsulates the complex nature of Gary and Alana’s relationship. Gary listens to Alana’s first attempt at selling this well-hydrated furniture via rotary dial, but thinks it lacks sex appeal. When he tells her to amp up the sexiness, she does everything from saying she’ll deliver it herself – to selling the customer a wood headboard, a product that they don’t even sell.
Watching Gary squirm, realizing the vast age difference between these two – and that a romantic relationship isn’t even appropriate – is the blurry line this movie lives to cross. Through it all, Haim portrays Alana’s brash, impetuous spirit really well. Her depiction of a down-for-whatever attitude as she keeps Gary’s heart on a string is as charming as it is confusing at times. But it does feel organic to a time coming out of the ‘60s when more carefree attitudes ruled the day.
As Haim, the actress, drives her career forward commanding serious screen time from Anderson, she also stars in what’s probably the longest sequence ever filmed of a person driving a moving truck in reverse. It’s a tense sequence where they try to evade manic film producer Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper). In it, Alana once again is in full control – much like she is in an intimate scene shot at a bar with Sean Penn (who plays movie star Jack Holden) where she alternates between staring into Holden’s eyes and sticking her tongue out at Gary who watches jealously from afar.
All told, Haim is a remarkably seasoned performer in her film debut – a skill she’s no doubt refined over the years in the pop-rock band she formed with her older sisters: HAIM. Licorice Pizza won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like period films that encapsulate a time and place (Anderson’s specialty), Haim’s here to give you the performance of her life – her first.
It’s rare that an actor makes their feature film debut as such a fully formed movie star, but the 30-year-old Haim’s big-screen debut has generated a serious amount of awards buzz on impact.
Even though the San Fernando Valley-born Haim had zero acting experience prior to her feature-film debut, she wasn’t a complete stranger to show business thanks to HAIM’s popularity as a pop-rock band. But in a classic Hollywood twist, Paul Thomas Anderson (who has directed some of Haim’s music videos) sent the script to Alana blindly to read according to this piece in The New York Times. Haim first read it thinking that he simply named a character after her. Then she found out Anderson wanted her to play the lead role, which blew her away – given she’d never acted in anything that wasn’t a music video. Haim instantly accepted, having faith in her accomplished director friend. As she told The Hollywood Reporter, “No other director could have gotten the performance that he got out of me because I trust him,” says Haim. “He knew I could do it way, way before I knew I could do it.”
The rest is film history.
Having already earned 2022 Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominations for “Best Actress” to go with “Best Actress” wins in 2021 from the Boston Society of Film Critics and Atlanta Film Critics Circle (amongst others), it seems like Haim may have a busy year ahead. Given the accolades, would Haim consider herself a full-time actor at this point? Not necessarily.
According to the Times piece, she’s not hanging up her mic just yet. “After this chapter is over with Licorice Pizza, I go back on tour with my band, and I’m back to my other job that I love so much,” Haim reveals. The national tour is called One More HAIM and Omicron-willing, she’ll be coming to some the biggest stages in the U.S. soon (including Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Bowl). Proving, when it comes to being an artist, you can have your Licorice Pizza and eat it too.
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.