Title: Inherent Vice (2014)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix , Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Martin Short, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Katherine Waterston, Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of those film directors who never miss; he’s on my “pitch perfect directors” list, right next to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Stanley Kubrick. These are directors who never disappoint me, even when they’re making one of their lesser films. Boogie Nights (1997)? There Will Be Blood (2007)? Punk Drunk Love (2002)? All amazing and engrossing Paul Thomas Anderson films; interesting part is that they are all vastly different films thematically and tone wise, yet one thing brings them together: they all have strong main characters, which I think is what Anderson specializes in, making films with strong, driven characters who will leave a lasting impression on you. He distills the most amazing performances from his actors, and he’s done it yet again in Inherent Vice. Anderson has created yet another memorable character in the form of ‘Doc Larry Sportello’. Inherent Vice gives us an amazing collaboration between actor, author and filmmaker, the result is a film with the makings of a bona fide cult classic.
Now I haven’t read Pynchon’s Inherent Vice (I’ll be correcting that soon) so I literally didn't know what to expect from this film. I’d read a few reviews that said that the film has an incomprehensible story, others said it was their least favorite Paul Thomas Anderson film, others would praise it as the next Fear andLoathing in Las Vegas (1998), all these opposing views got me all fired up to see Inherent Vice. On which side would I fall on? Something told me I’d love it, it had all the indicators of awesomeness. I was expecting a convoluted lovable mess, which is I think a good way to describe this film. So yeah, this is a polarizing film, it will divide audiences, some will love it to death (like me) some will leave the film feeling like they just smoked a doobie. While I watched it, a woman behind me said “I don’t get it”, the visceral reply in my mind was “you idiot!”, in the real world, I couldn’t help letting out an involuntary giggle. This personal anecdote best exemplifies what will surely happen in any given theater with this movie.
I don’t blame anybody for not “getting it”, this movie can be confusing. Characters keep popping up and the story seems to twist and twist with every coming scene, which is the way it’s supposed to be. I think the best way I can describe the experience of watching this film is like reading a Chuck Palahniuk novel. Excuse me for my literary comparison, but it’s the first thing that popped into my mind while watching this movie. You see, in my experience, when I start reading a Chuck Palahniuk book (he’s the author of Fight Club and Choke) I always feel a little lost. Each chapter starts a little incomprehensible, but as you read on things get clearer and clearer, by the ending of the chapter, poof, everything makes perfect sense. This is how Inherent Vice unfolds. When the film ends you’ll feel that it really wasn't as confusing as you had thought, suddenly everything clicks! But ultimately, I guess what this film must really capture is the experience of reading Thomas Pynchon's book, which I haven't done yet. I guess Palahniuk and Pynchon come from the similar literary universe. But here’s a trick to enjoying this movie, don’t try to follow it so much, simply enjoy the crazy characters and situations, because I think that’s really what this movie is about, experiencing the crazy ass moments that unfold and the visuals, which are entertaining and beautiful to look at.
Paul Thomas Anderson drew inspiration from many places to make this film, aside from Thomas Pynchon's novel, Anderson has stated that Inherent Vice has a little bit of Gilbert Shelton’s ‘The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers’ an underground comic from the 70’s and the Cheech and Chong movies. Inherent Vice can be categorized as a Stoner Film, though I wouldn't recommend watching it stoned, it will only mess with your chances of “getting it”, the movie is already trippy enough as it is! With the character of Doc Sportello, we get yet another memorable cinematic stoner, ranking right up there with Cheech and Chong, ‘The Dude’ and Jeff Spicoli. Doc Sportello is smoking weed literally throughout the entire film, and you’ll feel that haziness, you’ll feel that care free who gives a shit vibe in Inherent Vice. In many ways, this is the ultimate stoner film. But like some of the Cheech and Chong movies, cocaine use also works its way into the story. In fact, if there are two movies that Inherent Vice shares its DNA with it’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) and The Big Lebowski (1998). Fear and Loathing because of its constant drug use and overall trippy vibe and The Big Lebowski because Doc Sportello feels like The Dudes long lost brother.
A distinctive quality of Inherent Vice is how accurately Paul Thomas Anderson managed to capture that counter culture vibe from the 70’s where everyone was always high, had long hair, wore shades at all times, a time when everyone gathered around to philosophize, everyone believed in “good vibes” and in Ouija boards. I loved that whole relaxed breezy vibe the film elicits. There are scenes that take place in beach side communities filled with hippies and beautiful sunsets…loved that whole sit back and relax vibe that is a constant throughout the whole film. You will be transported to the 70’s, an era that Paul Thomas Anderson is apparently obsessed with; he also brought it to life to perfection in Boogie Nights (1997), one of Anderson’s best films. In fact, Anderson is so 70’s he even shot Inherent Vice on film! Personally, I immediately noticed the difference in look, there’s something about films shot on film. The images look so much better, the colors have richness; the definition is far superior than anything shot on digital. I am forever in love with films shot on actual film. Tarantino and Anderson are both on my good side for still doing it.
Anderson is one of those “serious” directors, even when he’s films are funny, they are somehow disturbing. I mean, look at Punch Drunk Love (2002). There’s no doubt the film is hilarious, but it’s not slapstick, har har har slap on your knees funny, it’s dark, twisted funny. The main character is a complete anti-social nut job! The same can be said of Inherent Vice, it’s a dark sort of funny. You see this movie is about sex, drugs and hedonism. The movie will be hilarious, but only to those who enjoy black, acid comedies that are funny because of how fucked up the situations are. What type of comedy am I talking about here? Well, for example, there’s this moment in which Doc Sportello visits a spiritual retreat in which everyone's tripping out on some sort of high; a commune for spiritual trippers. At one point, someone orders a bunch of pizaas and as the camera pans back we start seeing how the scene resembles Davinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ with Sportello as Jesus, and pizzas instead of bread and wine and it's just hilarious! Again, this scene will probably be hilarious to a select few. Side note, I’m going to give this movie the award for “sexiest scene of the year” and the scene I’m referring to is a scene with the beautiful Katherine Waterston seducing Doc Sportello, holy moly, what an erotic scene. Made me shiver with antici…pation! So anyhow, final words are this movie is awesome for the many reasons stated above, the awesome cast, which peppers the film with awesome little moments acted out by great actors. Keep your eyes open for Martin Short. But again, this film is made for a select audience, it will not appeal to everyone. Which group will you fall under?
Rating: 5 out of 5