January 16th, 2015 Film Reviews 0
Inherent Vice, the latest feature film from director Paul Thomas Anderson, is not an easy film to describe. The same could be said for most of Anderson’s filmography, a short yet highly ambitious list containing only seven full-length features, but what sets Inherent Vice apart from the other six films is that it is an adaptation of a novel, more specifically a Thomas Pychon novel of the same name. Nobody has dared to adapt a Pychon novel before, and after watching the film, it’s not hard to see why. Like its source material, the film version is extremely complicated, recursive, and full of details that don’t really matter.
If asked to describe the film in one word, it would likely be “incoherent,” but that would be an unfair description of a film that works so well on a scene-by-scene level. Set in the early 1970s, the film follows Larry “Doc” Sportello, a private investigator portrayed wonderfully by the always captivating Joaquin Phoenix, as he goes on a wild goose chase to find out the whereabouts of his missing ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (relative newcomer Katherine Waterston, a name I’m sure we’ll be seeing much more of soon). As the film goes on, the plot gets increasingly complicated as more characters get introduced, all of whom have their own warnings or plans for Doc. While every detour that Doc encounters leads him to somewhere interesting and ripe with hilarity, it doesn’t make the film any less confusing. Seemingly important information is constantly being thrown at Doc—and the audience—that ends up either being meaningless or a dead end.
The upside of the confusing and absurd nature of the film is that it’s intentionally so—most of the film’s comedy is mined from confusing interactions Doc has. It’s nearly impossible for me to provide more plot-level information than what I’ve given, not because of a fear of spoilers but because it will not make sense out of the context of the film, and often does not even make sense while watching. The film is essentially a comedic noir—this causes the audience to be kept in the dark the majority of the time because the protagonist has no idea what is happening himself. The film’s trailer actually outlines much of what happens throughout the film without spoiling anything, mostly because the film is not meant to be viewed on a plot level.
While Phoenix is phenomenal as Doc, the film would be nothing without its supporting cast, all of whom add so much to colour the film despite their generally small amount of screen time. The well-rounded supporting cast includes Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph (Anderson’s real-life spouse), the aforementioned Waterston, and Martin Short, all of whom add their own comedic timing and sensibilities to create fully realized characters in what sometimes amounts to only a couple of scenes.
Though confusing and downright maddening at times, Inherent Vice is a hilarious, messy, and poignant look at one man’s insane journey to find the woman he loves but also to find a bunch of other unrelated things as well. It’s worth seeing the film just to hang out with Joaquin Phoenix for the film’s 148 minute runtime as he experiences increasingly bonkers moments. I would hesitate to recommend this film to someone who requires their movies to be neatly wrapped up before they exit the cinema, but if you can enjoy the journey of a film without worrying about where everything will end up, you will have the chance to experience the most comedic and turbulent Paul Thomas Anderson enterprise yet.