Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film is a love story set in 1973, and far too interesting and complicated to qualify as “coming of age.” A smiling, quick-talking 15-year-old meets a bored 25-year-old who works as a photographer’s assistant taking pictures for the high school yearbook. She is amused, intrigued and depressed all at the same time when this kid starts to pick up on her, and she realizes that she is somehow interested in him.
Anderson turns his two newcomers into glorious movie stars. Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, is eerily assured as Gary Valentine, a burly kid with uncertain skin whose career as a child actor in television and film is coming to an end, and is therefore in the process of coming to an end. to turn its various sides. in the main event, running his own cockamamie business selling waterbeds. Alana Haim, of the pop group Haim, looks stunning as the permanently exasperated Alana Kane, a young woman with the beauty and charisma of Barbra Streisand; fitting, perhaps, as Streisand’s notoriously hot-tempered boyfriend Jon Peters is played by Bradley Cooper in a surrogate role, as one of Gary’s disgruntled waterbed customers.
The love between Gary and Alana, if there is love, is not going well. Alana breaks Gary’s heart as she holds the hand of another child actor barely older than him; Gary infuriates Alana by moving a girl his age. Alana retaliates by flirting with aging movie star Jack Holden (Sean Penn), presumably based on William Holden (why not just do William Holden?) And then tense political candidate Joel Wachs (Benny Safdie). But we all know, even if we can hardly believe it, where this is taking us. And this hypnotically beautiful, funny and romantic film moves freely from scene to scene, character to character, setting to setting, with absolute mastery. You float and wave around it like on a waterbed. But every relaxed line, kiss, car ride, setup, and joke is a joy.