In order for me to care about your characters, I’m pretty sure I should at least understand, oh I don’t know, 10% of what is happening in the movie.
“Inherent Vice” is Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest entry into the world of cinema and like his many before it, it’s full of interesting characters, strange twists and turns, and humans being extremely human. At the center of this story is Joaquin Phoenix whose character appears to be some sort of private investigator in the 70s finding himself caught up in some sort of complex world of power and lies that for the life of me I could not decipher. I mean, like at all. I was completely lost. Maybe it would help if I had read the Thomas Pynchon novel it was based on, or maybe I’m just not as smart a movie watcher as I like to think. But I have no clue what actually happened in this story. Which makes doing a review a bit interesting. But since my job is to give you an idea of what you might experience in seeing a movie, I’ll give it a shot, and what you are likely to experience is confusion.
Now that’s not to say it isn’t made well. PTA makes beautiful movies. And the art design on this one is absolutely incredible. The costuming, the sets, the language, it all feels perfectly era specific and ushers you into the world wonderfully. The acting is also amazing with standout performances by the likes of not only Pheonix but also Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, a hilarious cameo by Martin Short, and many others. Not to mention the music and score are good, the dialog feels smart and tight, and everything looks like it’s in the right place doing what it’s supposed to be doing. I’m just not sure what that really is.
And it’s not like things are happening too fast to keep up or anything, the pace is actually kind of slow, especially at the start. Taking it’s time with ingratiating us into this world, but forgetting to lay out the groundwork for us to understand what we are seeing. The result is that it takes forever to feel like it gets moving and once it does everything is just too abstract to understand. I’ve also decided I don’t really get PTA’s sense of humor. I find him much more accessible when he’s dealing with a predominantly dramatic palette, like “There Will Be Blood” for instance, but here he seems to want to lighten things up, and I’m just not sure it works. But overall, even if you are down with his strange, often boundary pushing way of telling a story, and the PTA aesthetics are your cup of tea, there just doesn’t seem to be a coherent story here to hold the center ground and build around, making the themes and meaning as cloudy as the minds of the drug addled characters within it.
At the end of the day, Inherent Vice is a really well made piece of nonsense. Though all the pieces feel competent the plot is too poorly constructed to really be understood or make an impact. If you are a huge fan of the novel or of Paul Thomas Anderson I’m guessing you’ll find some things to love here, otherwise I say it muddles it’s way to a C-.