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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Paul Thomas Anderson
prd Paul Thomas Anderson, Sara Murphy, Adam Somner
with Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Benny Safdie, Skyler Gisondo, Isabelle Kusman, Nate Mann, Milo Herschlag, Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Christine Ebersole, Joseph Cross, George DiCaprio, Harriet Sansom Harris, John Michael Higgins, Maya Rudolph
release US 26.Nov.21,
21/US MGM 2h13
Is it streaming?
This meandering romantic comedy bristles with the youthful energy of its early 1970s setting. Paul Thomas Anderson's immaculate recreation of the period and attitudes isn't surprising, but the loose filmmaking style is. This reveals the complex mindsets of two central characters as they circle each other provocatively. It's entertaining even if it feels oddly unfocussed, and even if there isn't much going on beneath the engaging surface.
In suburban Los Angeles, 25-year-old photographer Alana (Haim) meets the astonishingly self-assured 15-year-old actor Gary (Hoffman), who persistently asks her out, dismissing their age difference. She agrees to be friends, but he never gives up pursuing her. Soon she finds herself helping him launch a waterbed business, which later becomes a party-central videogame arcade. And when she starts dating older actor Lance (Gisondo), Gary takes up with Sue (Kusman). Then Alana meets Brian (Mann), who gets her involved in the mayoral campaign of Joel (Safdie). But she also keeps her eye on Gary.
Anderson follows Alana and Gary through small adventures that involve high-profile cameos, including Penn as a slimy hard-living actor and Cooper as a riotously out-of-control Jon Peters. One particularly nutty set piece involves Alana and Gary delivering a waterbed to Peters' Hollywood Hills home during the gasoline crisis, with raucously free-wheeling results. But most of the film circles around boisterous parties packed with teens. All of this is depicted in period style, accompanied by music and other pop culture references that add textures to each scene.
First-time actors Haim (of the pop group) and Hoffman (son of Philip Seymour) are hugely engaging leads who give the feisty Alana and Gary vivid internal lives. Because of their open-handed performances and the film's unhinged vibe, they never feel like movie characters. They're more like people we know. They also hold their own while surrounded by a veritable army of ace scene-stealers who pepper the movie with hilarious moments as they dip in and out of Alana and Gary's story.
With a barrage of early 1970s pop culture references, this is a feel-good comedy that hinges on an offbeat romance. It never feels like Alana and Gary are headed for a happy ever after together, but watching them circle around each other is cute and engaging. First-rate acting and filmmaking also hold the interest, even as the themes remain under-explored. Still, it's a wonderful depiction of a specific time and place in which two people are unable to get each other out of their heads.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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