Whither were thee in ‘73? Watching American Graffiti. It's no coincidence that Paul Thomas Anderson nostalgic tale of coming of age in the Valley opens the same year as George Lucas’ terrestrial masterwork (and with a filched cherry bomb in the boy’s room). The controversial age gap between our heretofore unknown leads — Alana (Alana Haim) has at least a decade over 15-year-old Gary (Cooper Hoffman) — isn’t the prickliest thorn on this wandering vine. Theirs is a zipless pursuit set 50 years in the past, a time when an underage male looking to score with a chick nearly twice his age was held in high regard. Anderson set the bar high with Boogie Nights and a woke spin on the time frame would ring insincere. Compare this to John Michael Higgins’ Jerry Frick, an entrepreneur whose over-enunciating obsession with mail order “Oriental” brides isn’t so much offensive as it is umbday. The anecdotally-correct celebrity lookalikes never fail to amuse: not since I Love Lucy have Ms. Ball (Christine Ebersole) and William Holden (Sean Penn) shared billing. It’s the questionable nature of our central characters (and a lack of running time-management skills) that lost me. The entrepreneurial lad wants so much to bag Alana that for a brief moment he considers fashioning a skin flick around her while she in turn becomes an angry star-effer. A mixed bag destined to accrue enough critical one-liners to convince theatregoers and VOD consumers of its genius. (2021) — Scott Marks
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