Here is another film that I’m unsure about.
I was entertained.
Yet, I had all kinds of problems with it. This is going to make it difficult for me to recommend this.
Paul Thomas Anderson has an eclectic list of films that he has directed over the years and this has that PTA feel to it.
Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is a 15-year old high school student who meets 25 (maybe 28)-year old Alana (Alana Haim) when she was at the school to do student pictures. They bond as friends and more and they spend the movie doing things around the San Fernando Valley, 1973.
One of my biggest problems with the movie was that there was really no narrative structure to it. It had a series of scenes, many of which were very entertaining, but had no narrative need for the movie. I guess the relationship between the two of them was the throughline of the story, but so many other scenes felt like distractions from that path.
Another major issue is the age difference between Gary and Alana. Alana was 25 (and at one point she slips and says that she was 28) and Gary is 15. That relationship is, at best, questionable. Neither of them are characters that I was rooting for to get together either. I actually couldn’t care less if they overcome the challenges that had been placed in their way.
Going along with this, I was unsure exactly what the passage of time was like here. I got the implication that some time had passed during the film, but I was not aware what that time was supposed to be, which caused an even more problematic situation between the two people.
There are some great actors involved here with characters that were very funny, but just show up for no apparent reason. Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, John Michael Higgins, Maya Rudolph, John C. Reilly and Benny Safdie all had scenes in the film and very few of them had any sort of resolution or purpose for being there.
For example, when Gary was at a convention type affair selling waterbeds, the police grabbed him, cuffed him and arrested him for murder. They shoved him in the car and took him to the station. They dragged another person out in front of him and he said that he wasn’t the guy. So they let Gary go. I found that irreverent and funny, but it absolutely served no purpose to the film except as a funny segue. It was never referenced again. Maybe I missed the relevance but there were a bunch of other examples just like that which made me think that the randomness of the situation is what they were going for.
Again, I was entertained by the scene, but why was it here?
I did find the performance of Alana Haim to be great. She brought the right amount of confusion and anguish as well as joy that I related to her most of all. Her character was not vey likable, so it was her acting that brought me in.
The film was around 133 minutes and that felt too long. The middle of the film meandered a lot and could have benefited from some editing. Perhaps they could have removed a scene or two of unnecessary nonsense.
Maybe the idea behind it is that the world is full of ridiculousness and when you have a chance at happiness, you should not let it get away. Maybe.
While I did enjoy the overall haphazardry of the scenes, I do not think this is a good movie. Again, I feel odd because I did find much of this movie entertaining, but I would not recommend it to anyone.