Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman star in "Licorice Pizza."

Paul Thomas Anderson’s "Licorice Pizza" is both a love letter and love story. 

On its own, the film is the coming-of-age tale of two in-between souls, each searching for resolve with and in each other. It is an open, honest pump of the heart — in the lives of main characters Alana and Gary, but equally in Anderson’s larger filmography and in Hollywood’s recent wave of 1970’s romanticization (think Tarantino’s "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," and even Todd Phillip’s "Joker").

Set in the golden era of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, "Licorice Pizza" is soaked in SoCal bliss. Classic cars, water beds and subtle celebrity run-ins fill the air with the freedom and joy of '70s summers, fueled and lightly propelled by a phenomenal soundtrack that blends Nina Simone and Bing Crosby with David Bowie and The Doors.

It isn’t just the atmosphere that Anderson builds, it’s the intentionality and honesty behind it. There are big Hollywood figures involved, namely Bradley Cooper (Jon), Sean Penn (William), Tom Waits (Rex), and Maya Rudolph (Gale). However, the main players — Alana and Gary, portrayed by Alana Haim (yes, of HAIM) and Cooper Hoffman (yes, son of the legendary Philip Seymour Hoffman) — look and live like real people, with striking honesty. They struggle with acne, over/under development and hair that refuses to lie flat. More than giving honesty and reality to the audience though, it gives genuine life and authenticity to the onscreen characters and their love. 

In terms of cinematography, the film is magnificent. Fluidity plays a key role in the truth and realness of the story. The opening scene, the first conversation between the main characters is one continuous shot, plunging the audience right into the film with Alana and Gary’s delicate back-and-forth. The camera carves itself through the hills of San Fernando Valley, not getting in the viewers face, but not letting them forget how masterful its direction is. 

While it may have stood no chance in the box-office against the more popular "The Matrix Resurrections" and "Spiderman: No Way Home," it has proved itself well in higher film circles. This film has become a front runner for Best Picture — not without its own stumbles.

Following Gary and Alana through their tangles in the San Fernando Valley can sometimes be difficult, whether from the obscurity of their pursuits or from the sheer volume of the relevant cast. 

However, each new character and each bizarre interaction provides a new, crucial layer for both of the main characters' lenses, which they ultimately use to look upon each other and the love between them. 

There are a lot of moving pieces in this film. While it is dense, nothing, absolutely nothing is unnecessary — so much so that ultimately everything really is necessary.

This is what has been deemed the largest issue with "Licorice Pizza" — the notion of necessity. There are scenes of blatant sexism, racism and prejudice — most notably in a scene where a white man speaks English to his Japanese wife in a horrific, unnecessary Japanese accent. 

While many have drawn issue with this, contending it as racism for the sake of racism or plainly racism as a punchline, the moment does serve a greater purpose.

This is the '70s. Prejudice and sexism are disappointingly common.

“I think it would be a mistake to tell a period film through the eyes of 2021," said Anderson in an interview with  The New York Times. "You can’t have a crystal ball; you have to be honest to that time.”

This bizarre moment of gall and guttural wrongness puts a spotlight on the issue of their presence and normality within this era. This is a massive subtext to the film. Women, especially women of color, are pushed to the sidelines and are often recognized not for their humanity but for the sex appeal and utility they can provide or sell.

This is the love that Alana finds with Gary. While he does find her attractive and she is a useful business partner, he does see her humanity — her struggle with arrested development, her desire to grow, her desire to love and her desire to be loved.

This is the love of "Licorice Pizza." A love that nobody should miss out on.

I give "Licorice Pizza" a 10/10.

Michael Beirne is staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @mtbeirne.