For his ninth feature film, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love, Inherent Vice, There Will Be Blood, Magnolia) turns his multiple talents to a story about negotiating the perils of first love in 1973 San Fernando Valley. This love letter to a place and an era in which Anderson grew up is a loose, playful amble that gets by your (okay, my) cynical defenses and embeds itself in your consciousness to the point where you feel a part of it. This is Anderson at the height of his creative powers.

The central characters are Gary (Cooper Hoffman, son of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman), a precocious, goal-oriented, 15-year-old entrepreneur, and Alana (Alana Haim), Gary’s decade-older, platonic romantic interest (target?). Not exactly a May-December romance, but maybe April-June? Neither has acted in a film before. Their chemistry is natural and relaxed.

There’s no real plot. As would a real romance, the story unfolds as a series of comic and/or life-lesson vignettes dotted with razor-sharp dialogue. The star-studded, veteran supporting cast includes cameos by Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper, Tom Waits, Maya Rudolph and John C. Reilly.

This is an absolute must-see. And no, the title is never mentioned or explained. 

P.S. The film as yet has no Japan release date, but as it’s been nominated this year for a Best Picture Oscar, it’s worth your while to look around for a streamed copy. (133 min)