Weird. Beautiful. Funny. Convoluted. Meandering. Forget it Jake, it’s Pynchon.
Paul Thomas Anderson has made his name with movies that feel very important, and are chock full of big ideas about life. If you come looking for that in Inherent Vice, you’re going to leave disappointed. This movie is essentially a comedy, full of visual gags and walk-o- length comedic performances by a series of excellent actors. The story isn’t much to hang your hat on, but the cast, the dialog and gorgeous images should keep you entertained, as long as you keep your expectations in check.
The story comes from a 2009 Thomas Pynchon Novel, and to try to summarize here would be silly. What you really need to know is that Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc, a private detective who is also a “doper.” It’s 1970, and he is ahead of the curve as a drug user, and he uses everything under the sun in this movie. His contrasting counterpart is a policeman named “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, played by Josh Brolin. He is straight out of Dragnet, a buttoned up serious policeman who hates hippies and everything they represent. If there’s an underlying conflict to be found in this film, it would be the question of who actually has the moral high ground, the straight laced establishment or the drugged out hippies? But maybe I’m digging.
Katherine Waterstron gives the best performance in the whole movie (she’s the only character who is not inside of a comedy), playing Doc’s ex-lover Shasta who sets the entire course of the plot in motion by asking Doc to get to the bottom of a kidnapping plot involving her current, married lover, his wife, her lover, and some neo-Nazis. She doesn’t start with neo-Nazis. The investigation gets sent in tangent upon tangent upon tangent until you realize that the plot is just messing with you, and maybe you should just be enjoying the ride. Trying to make some sense of this, or looking for some sort of typical three-act structure is going to hurt your head here. This is practically sketch comedy.
This movie is beautiful as well, with a classic film feel. It was shot on 35mm so if you can catch it projected that way, I recommend it. Although it has screened in 70mm, that’s a blowup, and isn’t going to be as sharp as a true 35mm projection, although I don’t think PT Anderson would have let it screen in 70mm if he didn’t think it was worthwhile. He’s made a beautiful movie worth seeing, and one that will entertain anyone looking for just that. Searches for deeper meaning or a satisfying narrative conclusion aren’t found here. The loose ends stay loose, as the movie meanders to its weird and wonderful closing.
Inherent Vice opens today, everywhere