By Christian DiMartino
I have been waiting on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice for four years. Do you know how difficult that has been? I am a huge Anderson fan, and will be there for anything he makes. But the question is: Is it worth the wait?
I remember when I first heard Anderson was bringing Thomas Pynchon’s novel to life. I had to find out what it was and check it out. In the four years since then, I have attempted to read Inherent Vice three or four times, but I simply could not wrap my mind around the novel’s complex mystery. So, to no surprise, the film is the same way. I am not sure if I understand the movie, but that does not mean I did not enjoy it. I actually really liked it.
So, let me tell you what I know. The film takes place in the 1970s. Joaquin Phoenix, re-teaming with Anderson after the underrated masterpiece The Master, is a hilarious private eye named Doc Sportello. Basically, he is high all the time (if that Tove Lo song popped in your head, I apologize). When his ex-lady, Shasta (Katherine Waterson), appears in his home one night, she tells him of a plot against her land developer boyfriend (Eric Roberts). What is this plot? Throwing him in a loony bin, of course.
That does not sound too confusing right? Well, enter a subplot involving a missing musician (Owen Wilson), and another one involving a drug-fueled dentist (the hilarious Martin Short), not to mention Shasta’s own disappearance. Eventually you will be thinking, “Wait what does that have to do with… huh?” Honestly, the only way to fully understand Inherent Vice is by bringing a pencil and paper and taking every little note you can. Even then, I am not sure if all the dots would connect. But I believe that is the point.
Inherent Vice is often hilarious, but I was never fully sure of what I was watching. I have tried wrapping my mind around its mystery, but it is not worth it. This is a film that almost makes you feel like you are in a daze.
I can see where someone would not enjoy it. Even some of Anderson’s best films, including Magnolia (the best movie of the 1990s) and The Master, have divided people. This one will especially divide people, but I had a blast. I laughed, I was entertained, and I was entranced.
Anderson has a gift with ensemble casts. Like with Magnolia and Boogie Nights, he deals with a cast so large and so talented. This one also stars Reese Witherspoon as Doc’s girlfriend, Josh Brolin as a cop named Bigfoot, Benicio Del Toro as Doc’s lawyer, and Maya Rudolph (Anderson’s girlfriend of many years) as a secretary.
With that said, I do think this is a mild letdown. I do think this is somewhere among the best films of 2014, but I expect nothing but perfection from Anderson, and this is no masterpiece.
This is a baffling, funny, well-acted, and visually appealing mess. But that is perfectly acceptable. It is fine that Anderson has not made a masterpiece here. He has proved himself enough already. Not everyone will dig Inherent Vice, especially those who try to make sense of it all. But I say if you just go along with what this great filmmaker has to offer, you may have a good time. Or you might scratch your head so much it begins to bleed.