Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a drug addled private investigator in 1970s L.A. His ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) comes to him with a case involving the disappearance of her new lover, Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), whom Shasta believes has been committed to an insane asylum by his wife. Doc heads out on the case, but ends up collecting a couple more along the way, both also involving missing people, and eventually becomes embroiled with the police, a brothel, a manic dentist and something known as The Golden Fang.OK, Inherent Vice, here we go. This film is a mess. It’s all over the place. The only reason I could piece together a coherent synopsis was by looking at the ridiculously long plot outline on Wikipedia, because I gave up trying to make sense of this film at maybe scene two or three, and this is a long old movie if you don’t know what the heck you’re watching. I’ve heard elsewhere that this is the kind of film which you’re supposed to just let wash over you, which is rarely the kind of film I enjoy, but even taking that into account this suffered from the same problems as The Master, in that I wasn’t sure what I was being shown, why I was being shown it and in fact why I was even watching the film in the first place. I suppose it didn’t help that I don’t get to go to the cinema too often, and I elected to see this (for a Lambcast episode) in favour of many other films I’d have rather seen, such as Big Hero 6, Kingsman, Whiplash or Ex Machina, all of which were released at a similar time, and none of which I’ve yet seen. There was just nothing to here to retain my interest.
Yes it’s a bit funny, but not enough. Phoenix proves he is capable of actually smiling without looking like he should have blood dripping from his face from the fresh corpses he’s just made of everyone you hold dear, so there’s that, but considering how many people have deemed this a hilarious comedy I just don’t understand it. I laughed very few times in a film that’s two and a half hours long, and if you’d removed Josh Brolin’s character, Detective “Bogfoot” Bjornsen, then I probably would have barely even smiled in this movie. The way Brolin eats a frozen banana is damn hilarious, as is his early appearance in a TV commercial sporting a big silly afro, and “Molto panacaku!” will probably be the equivalent of There Will Be Blood‘s milkshake. Oh, and the bit with Doc’s friend Denis (Jordan Christian Hearn) and the car steering wheel. But that’s it.
I haven’t read the Thomas Pynchon book on which this is based, and if it’s anything like the film then I’d rather burn a copy than waste my time reading it. It’s not good, and I don’t know what it’s for.
It all feels like a real waste of a frankly tremendous cast, especially given how little some of the more interesting actors are used. The likes of Michael K. Williams, Martin Short, Eric Roberts and Jena Malone are given just one scene apiece, with Reese Witherspoon, Maya Rudolph and the great Benicio del Toro having far little to do as well. If anything, Owen Wilson’s storyline is given perhaps too much attention, but it helps kind of wrap the plot up at the end (I think?) so it would be difficult to cut it down further, although given how little sense the film made anyway I don’t know if I’d be any more lost if they just jettisoned the character completely.
I haven’t even mentioned the narration yet. In a film this confusing, with a new character being introduced every few minutes and a new plot direction taken even more frequently, you’d think adding a narration would help make things a little more coherent. Well, you’d be wrong. The narration is provided by Joanna Newsom, whose squeaky, nasally voice is the worst I’ve heard for narration since Joey Lauren Adams was a thing. Similarly, what she is actually saying somehow makes everything even more confusing, due to the fixation on astrology, 1970s hippie slang and generally making everything sound far more flowery than it is. It’s just another layer of distraction to try to remove the focus from how muddled the film is as a whole.
I feel that with The Master PTA set out to make something ambiguous and thought-provoking, with top notch performances, which he absolutely did, it just wasn’t for me. With Inherent Vice, if his intention was to make a film that was too confusing to bother with, mostly unfunny and entirely boring, then he achieved his goal there too. Above all else, knowing hat else PTA can achieve, this was just very, very disappointing.
Choose Life 4/10