Neither exceptional nor terrible, The Christian Licorice Store is perhaps most interesting as a compendium of New Hollywood affectations. Telling a downbeat story about an egotist who becomes a self-destructive asshole, and employing gimmicks ranging from self-referential material about cinema to stylized visual distortions, the movie epitomizes the adventurous and indulgent qualities shared by a whole generation of filmmakers. The picture celebrates its own artificiality even as it strives for heavy “realness.” Some viewers may find this sort of stuff impossibly dated, but for devoted ’70s fans, The Christian Licorice Store contains many small pleasures. And if the sum is less than the parts, so what?
Beau Bridges stars as Franklin, a fast-rising professional tennis player who enjoys the perks of his job—fat paychecks, a loose lifestyle, and plentiful adoring women. At first, Franklin seems a bit lost but generally sincere, learning life lessons from his coach, suave former tennis star Jonathan (Gilbert Roland). Attending a painfully superficial Hollywood party one evening, Franklin meets beautiful photographer Cynthia (Maud Adams), and they travel to her house for a tryst. The evening blossoms into a relationship, even though Franklin still has eyes for other women. Just when it seems everything’s going well, however, Franklin suffers an existential crisis.
Written by Floyd Mutrux—an iconoclast whose filmmography includes everything from the grungy drug saga Dusty and Sweets McGee (1971) to the insipid teen comedy The Hollywood Knights (1980)—The Christian Licorice Store is deliberately opaque. Among the film’s many pretentious elements is the title, which is never explained, although folksinger Tim Buckley appears in one scene and performs a song with lyrics containing the odd title phrase. On a deeper level, Mutrux and director James Frawley never illuminate what drives Franklin to excess, beyond the perfunctory remarks that Franklin makes about a withholding father. As in many I-gotta-be-me downers of the same vintage, the takeaway seems to be, “It’s the ’70s, man—just go with it.”
Within this constrained space, Bridges gives an adequate performance, capturing something about Franklin’s toxic blend of narcissism and self-loathing. Adams, largely decorative, shines during a party scene in which she delivers a murderous put-down to a sleazy producer. Onetime “Latin Lover” Roland was a peculiar casting choice, and it’s strange that legendary French filmmaker Jean Renoir basically takes over the movie for several minutes by playing himself, chatting up Adams’ character because she’s taken portraits of him. What does it all mean, especially in the context of the grim ending? It’s the ’70s, man. Just go with it.
The Christian Licorice Store: FUNKY