How the ‘Licorice Pizza’ poster art brings a family’s American dream story full circle
Kat Reeder remembers the night her father, Victor Rodriguez, left Lima, Peru, for a new life in the U.S. It was 1986, and Reeder was 7. Relatives, friends and neighbors poured into her tiny brick townhouse for a festive sendoff party. Rodriguez was leaving to seek better circumstances for the family, and the celebratory singing, drinking and dancing continued into the wee hours.
As the sun came up, Rodriguez picked up his brown leather “weekender” and departed for the airport. A caravan of five taxi cabs, filled with tearful loved ones, trailed behind to see him off.
Rodriguez had been unable to obtain a U.S. visa, so he flew to Mexico and, days later, crossed the border on foot and headed for Los Angeles, where he knew no one. He slept on park benches at first; he eventually moved to Miami, where he sent for his family to join him.
Now, 35 years later, Reeder is a successful graphic designer living in Honolulu — and an illustrated poster she designed for Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, “Licorice Pizza,” is displayed all around the world, including on park benches across Los Angeles — not unlike the ones on which her father had slept all those years earlier when he first arrived in the United States.
“He remembers being so lonely and thinking: ‘I don’t belong here.’ But today, we’re very much part of this country,” Reeder says. “He remembers how it felt like anything can happen in this city, any dream you have is possible here. And now it’s like: ‘My daughter is an actual working artist, it’s her dream and I’m watching it happen.”
The poster — featuring illustrative portraits of the film’s ensemble cast members depicted in hazy, warm tones that drip with ’70s nostalgia, the period in which the picture is set — is a hit. It’s landed on multiple “best of” lists — including IndieWire’s “25 Best Film and Television Posters of 2021” and the Playlist’s “Best Film Posters of 2021”— and it has generated passionate social media traction since the movie’s release in select theaters in early November. (The film, starring Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, opens nationwide Christmas Day.)
“Does anyone know who did the art for this new Licorice Pizza poster? I’d like to marry them,” one person tweeted.
“If there were an Oscar for Best Poster this would be the frontrunner,” someone posted on Reddit.
“Can’t wait for this poster to come to my theater so I can steal it immediately,” yet another person tweeted.
Die-hard fans have, in fact, taken to stealing the poster from subways and park benches and selling it on eBay or keeping it for themselves.
Reeder says she’s unsure exactly why the poster is resonating so widely and powerfully, but she points to the popularity of the retro aesthetic as a potential factor. “It’s like a poster you’d find in a record store or a vintage store today,” she says. “I wanted to create something that would look like it’s already had a life beyond this decade.”
The nostalgia factor is what hooked graphic designer Michael Bierut, who created Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign logo. He described Reeder’s poster, on Instagram, as having “the kind of delirious synthesis of concept, style and execution that got me crazily excited when I first became aware of graphic design as a teenager in the 70s…”
The muted “lived in” hues and flowy Art Nouveau-like lines evoke comfort, Reeder says, even for younger people unfamiliar with the ’70s. It’s a much-needed sentiment these days, which may also be part of the poster’s appeal.
“The sun, the browns, all very warm,” Reeder says. “I was thinking of what I call ‘maternal colors’ — because we think of our parents back then — shaggy carpets and nighttime and the warm light of the lamps. I was trying to bring it back to that feeling of almost being in the womb in the ’70s.”
The movie, a coming-of-age story set in the ’70s San Fernando Valley, is “a quasi-romantic comedy and a shaggy-dog epic,” says Times critic, Justin Chang, “a rise-and-fall portrait of a waterbed empire, a string of Hollywood tall tales, a peek inside the chambers of political power and … a roundelay of men behaving badly.”
There was much curiosity around Hoffman’s performance, seeing as he’s the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Haim, a member of the L.A. sisters band Haim, was also an unknown to acting, but she had worked with Anderson in several music videos for the group. She became the movie’s unexpected breakout star.
Haim’s character anchors the poster front and center as she’s cradling a tiny rendering of Hoffman’s character in her open palm. It’s clear who drives the action in the movie. “One of the reasons they chose me is because I have a very specific way of depicting women, in a very powerful way,” Reeder says. “That’s something they wanted to communicate, this girl who is the star of his life. She’s in control.”
Reeder, a self-taught illustrator who studied advertising in college, says she sees music as colors. While making the poster — a digital painting process — she hadn’t seen the film yet for inspiration. Instead, she listened to the movie’s soundtrack and Haim, as well as Fleetwood Mac, ABBA and a whole lot of yacht rock.
“I just listen to the music and let all the images come to me,” she says.
She’s proud to be part of what she sees as a possible illustrated poster renaissance. Many consider the golden era of illustrated movie posters, Reeder says, to be the ’50s and ’60s (think “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” or sci-fi films of the era), but there was a time in the late ’70s and early ’80s when illustrated posters were particularly collectable. Blaxploitation films such as ”Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold” and action movies like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” were hot items. Then photography became the favored medium for the genre.
“In the last 10 to 15 years, you see them more,” says Reeder, who collects illustrated movie posters herself. “But — and this is what people are saying — [the ‘Licorice Pizza’ poster] is a nice throwback … people actually wanting to physically own a copy where they’ll rip it out of the wall. I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Reeder’s father, now 75 and a retired tile contractor living in Honolulu, may be even more excited than her about the poster campaign, she says.
“The U.S., for us when I was a kid, was a really magical place,” Reeder says. “And setting foot in L.A., for my dad, was like: ‘I’m actually here where things happen. What if my kids come and they make something happen?’”
“Well, I feel like I’m making a difference in a way, even if it’s through art — it’s giving back in some way. That’s what really makes my dad proud.”
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