Master filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) returns to the setting of his earlier breakout movies for this tender, nostalgic hangout movie.
It's 1973 in LA's San Fernando Valley, and cocksure high schooler/child actor Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, the son of late actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who starred in many of Anderson's films) is getting his class photo taken. He takes a shine to the twentysomething photographer's assistant Alana (Alana Haim of the band Haim) and asks her to join him for dinner at a restaurant that eve.
Amazingly, she shows up, and despite making it clear that nothing will happen between them, Alana and Gary continue to spend time together and eventually partner up on Gary's new waterbed business, amongst several other ventures. She seems to enjoy the attention, and Gary thinks he can win her over.
Despite the age gap, the actions of both characters are never less than wholly authentic and believable. Gary's pubescent yearning and Alana's struggle for identity are evenly balanced. Both performers are making their acting debuts, and their fresh rawness suits the scrappy film. They are surrounded by a variety of fun supporting characters, and there are amusing extended cameos from Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper.
Anderson is clearly having the time of his life back in the Valley after travelling further afield with films like There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread, and there is much joy to be found in how the film luxuriates in the setting that is so familiar to him. You can really feel the Valley here.
The period Los Angeles setting and overlap with showbiz renders this something of a companion piece to Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. But this is a much kinder, gentler film that emanates a welcoming, warm glow.
Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Bradley Cooper
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Running time: 134 minutes
Rating: M (Offensive language, sexual references & drug references)
Verdict: Guaranteed to make you smile.