An indelible scene: When a woman takes the wheel in ‘Licorice Pizza’

An indelible scene: When a woman takes the wheel in 'Licorice Pizza'

Alana and Greg take Jon to a nearby gas station, where the sounds of the song “Indian Reservation” fill the air. That might explain why Jon, still freaking out, says “Chumash territory!” calls. as he makes his way to a pump and throws the gas can at a startled customer. (I suspect Anderson is having fun too: Peters is part Cherokee.) Back in the truck, Gary tells Alana to go, “Back, back, back.” Freed from their strange intruder, they laugh and smile and drive back to Jon’s waiting Ferrari. They stop, Gary gets out and continues to wreck the car, smashing the windows. Anderson uses close-ups strategically, so it’s instructive when he deploys them, which he does here, pressing Gary’s smiling face until it fills the frame.

Like so many of Gary’s triumphs, this one is short-lived. The truck shudders and dies, and Alana, looking at the gauge, realizes they are out of gas. One of the background details of the story is the 1973 oil crisis, which turns out to be disastrous for Gary and Alana’s business. Waterbeds are made of petroleum-based vinyl; more urgent, they need to move merch. They also have to move that night. And so, after ordering Gary to get out and push, Alana – initially in reverse, like a truck driver Ginger Rogers – steers this behemoth in the final section, brilliantly through a series of inky, twisty, sometimes steep streets. It’s glorious.

Sometimes the journey really is the destination, whether the characters are speeding or crashing. In the series ‘Fast and Furious’, driving is an existential truth: ‘Life is simple,’ says one of the poets in ‘Tokyo Drift’. “You make choices and don’t look back.” you just To go, who grabs Alana as she’s behind the wheel. She has to make choices. She and Gary are stranded that night. But they’re stuck in other ways too, reading their troubles that night as a metaphor for their relationship. Jon’s flirtation with her is a reminder, also to Gary, that other men find her desirable; her handling of the truck shows what she can do.

Until the truck series, Alana never makes sense as a character, even when she wins the most. She is an adult in a teen movie and her only real romantic prospect is a child who is extremely and legally unfit. Still, she continues to hang out with Gary, floating and idling. Together they put in a lot of miles – Alana comes in halfway through the film – and one of the crucial visual motifs in “Licorice Pizza” is that they run: alone, side by side or towards each other. But where are they going? But as she sends the roll-out truck into the Los Angeles night, taking one terrifying turn after another, her face focused and hands clasped, Alana gives you an answer. She’s right where she needs to be, in command and in control, with a suitably awesome Gary by her side. And she takes him, you and this movie to the finish.


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