Nazis and dentists and stoners oh my! What else could possibly be going in this drug-filled odyssey with a penchant for frozen bananas and hairy nipples. Is that Owen Wilson with a saxophone I see? Or perhaps it’s a series of cryptic messages scrawled down on a notepad during a paranoid drug trip,Is that Joaquin Phoenix’s…
Ah-HA! I have lured you here under the pretense of talking about Paul Thomas Anderson and his directorial genius only to first talk about a state of affairs on cinema! You should have seen through my elaborate plan dear reader – what with the picture and the description and the clicking thereof. I’ll get to Inherent Vice in a minute, so don’t get all in a tizzy about things. It’s just that – being a new year and all – I thought it might be a good idea to both reflect on the past year and gauge the things to come.
Now let’s face it, 2014 was absolute shit; nothing good happened, the world lost Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams (as well as some other important folks), and yours truly decided to dump his movie rants all over the internet. That being said, 2014 was also an incredibly good year for movies and I’m anxiously awaiting the travesty of the 87th Academy Awards.
There’s going to be some fierce competition between Birdman, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood, so you best prepare to take sides. You’ll probably get a few dark horse candidates in there like American Sniper or Gone Girl, but rest assured the winner will be something stupid like Theory of Everything even though Ellar Coltrane had to spend 13 fucking years being filmed by Richard Linklater. Just mentally prepare yourself that we’ll have another repeat of The King’s Speech winning.
While I’ll no doubt go into a pre- and post-oscar rant closer to February, I wanted to just spell out how I feel 2015 will be in terms of the movies on the horizon. Honestly folks, it doesn’t look good. It’s a year for sequels and reboots as always (since nothing original can hold an audience’s attention apparently), and you can fully expect to die a little inside with the release of things like Hotel Transylvania 2, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, and of course, a live-action Spongebob movie.
George Lucas will continue to disappoint with his animated film Strange Magic. Kingsman will probably fall into obscurity within a month as well as the planned Transporter reboot. These are just a few movies I briefly glanced over at IMDB, but you get the trend. It’s depressing to say the least, but to be slightly optimistic, we do have a lot of big name reboots and other films in store that show some promise. There’s the latest addition to the Terminator franchise, a Mad Max reboot starring Tom Hardy, Fantastic Four (again), and of course the one I’m anxiously awaiting: Magic Mike XXL Jupiter Ascending.
You should also look forward to a few surprise features that might sneak up on you like Victor Frankenstein later in the year, Chappie of course, Child 44 (only because I love the combination of Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace), Crimson Peak by Guillermo, the new Bond film Spectre, a Jungle Book live-action reboot, Tomorrowland, and finally the Oscar gold for 2015 – The Revenant – directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
So the moral of the story is that Tom Hardy is amazing and everyone should go see Boyhood.
THE ACTUAL REVIEW
Now, one film you probably won’t hear a whole lot about this Oscar season is Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film: Inherent Vice. It’s not necessarily a bad film; in fact it’s probably one of my favorites of the year. The problem is that – those unfamiliar with PTA’s work will leave the theatre confused, disappointed, and ultimately angry that someone would have the audacity to make a ‘stupid stoner flick’.
“Gee honey, I can’t believe we just wasted two and a half hours of our lives watching something that made absolutely no sense! We should have gone and seen Taken 3 because it would have benefitted our lives more than watching Joaquin Phoenix get stoned and wander around Southern California on groovy adventures.”
No ma’am and/or sir, you’re just missing the point of PTA as a director. He doesn’t make cookie cutter movies to tell a story or pander to audience expectations; rather he makes movies to challenge himself as a filmmaker and you should be applauding him – nay – praising him for doing his own thing . Do you really think Boogie Nights or Punch-Drunk Love were concerned with the plot? No! They’re about identifiable characters and relatable locales and PTA is a master not only of his craft, but also of creating rich depth to his characters.
That being said I think that PTA’s weakness in this film is that he isn’t creating his own characters but rather adapting the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name that came out a few years ago. Inherent Vice is a movie of surrealism and misadventure. It’s a movie of wacky humor and an unforgiving examination of culture and period nostalgia (being set in the early 1970’s). The genre I’ve heard thrown around to describe the movie is Stoner Noir and honestly that’s the only thing is and that it could have ever been.
The story itself centers around “Doc” Sportello (Phoenix) who is both a private eye and a dope-head that gets involved with investigating a conspiracy that may or may not actually be real. Something about his ex-old lady and a love tetrahedron (the evilest of shapes)… You don’t really need to understand the plot because the plot doesn’t matter. Thomas Pynchon, and by extension PTA, is more concerned with putting his zany characters in situations where their eccentricities can shine. You probably won’t figure the plot out even if you do watch the film so just enjoy the meandering of the story and the fact that Joaquin Phoenix with muttonchops getting stoned all the time is just plain hysterical.
You have a pretty all-star cast including Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, and Benecio Del Toro, but honestly I’d say that none of them really matter much to your ultimate opinion of the film. They all play their parts and do their things, but none of them stand out as being particularly memorable. They’re just kind of there as a peripheral cast member that really doesn’t detract at all from the Gonzo-style narrative that is centered on Doc.
It’s just funny to take a recognizable period piece like a post-Manson southern California and interject references to old detective stories and noir. Noir in itself is perhaps the darkest of genres and only seems to be concerned with lust, greed, violence and fatalism. It’s kind of refreshing to have all that replaced by the wackiness you’d find in Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas or by the absurdism of The Big Lebowski.
Those two films are probably the only standards I can compare Inherent Vice to, as it’s ultimately just an emotional journey sprinkled with some memorable scenes. Doc is a more identifiable version of ‘The Dude’ that’s tasked with something that seemingly has value but really doesn’t. It’s just Doc facing off with Nazis and promiscuous dentists, but it still manages to capture the spirit of other neo-noirs like Chinatown or L.A. Confidential.
It’s funny to see Doc’s genuine fascination with the way Brolin’s hard-boiled detective character seems to always be eating phallic looking frozen bananas. It’s funny to inconsequentially follow a ‘no-good do-gooder’ around on a groovy adventure of no consequence. It doesn’t matter what, when, who, where or why, it just matters that you’re there and PTA is leading you on a journey of romance, surrealism, paranoia, violence and humor.
It’s a movie that really couldn’t have been made any differently. It’s not tackling any big issues like Fear and Loathing. It’s not reinventing the detective story found in so many dime-store crime-novels. Inherent Vice is just a stoner odyssey of the highest caliber that exists because Paul Thomas Anderson had to make it. Phoenix steals the show with his performance as the bumbling Doc, but the real takeaway from this film is that Anderson is a master of his craft and is easily one of the most versatile directors to stand behind a lens.
ADDENDUM: No I have not read the book, but rather have decided to write the review based on the movie as an original story. By extension you should know to give credit where credit is due because although the story, characters, etc. are a product of Pynchon, it still requires tremendous effort and grace to adapt such a convoluded story to the big-screen
The Bottom Line:
If you like absurdist humor and/or drug odysseys you’ll love Inherent Vice. It doesn’t matter that you don’t get the plot because the plot has absolutely nothing to do with the purpose of the movie. It’s more about the journey and less about the destination. You’ll get to see Joaquin Phoenix with muttonchops and Josh Brolin casually stuff his face with bananas and pancakes all whilst not quite mastering Japanese. Paul Thomas Anderson fans will probably be on the fence as it’s not quite the masterpiece they’re probably expecting, but it’s humor-filled, quality-directed and ultimately worth the watch.