Well, it’s a very hazy affair that’s for sure. I can’t help but feeling that all that weed being smoked was real and affecting anyone and everyone involved in making Inherent Vice. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Once we’ve freed ourselves from the tyranny of any sort of plot, we’re free to enjoy the film for what it is: a stoner crime comedy. Because that’s the only way to enjoy it. Director Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t want you to take the film seriously and try to follow the story. He wants you to sit back, have a few laughs, and hope for a happy ending.
Set in 1970, Joaquin Phoenix plays “Doc”, a bumbling hippy PI whose ex-girlfriend Shasta has gone missing along with her new lover, hotshot real estate developer Mickey Wolfmann. During his quest for answers, Doc encounters various bizarre characters, including neo-Nazis, shady dentists, your usual crime lords and – for some reason – Owen Wilson. Among these is hard-ass cop, Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen played by Josh Brolin.
Bigfoot hates hippies, and probably the only thing he hates more than hippies is our shaggy hero Doc. Scenes featuring the pair are where the film really shines and the two make a great comparison, both men fighting for their cause the only way they know how. Brolin does a superb job with the role and is responsible for some of Inherent Vice’s funniest moments. Along with Phoenix’s convincing performance, the pair drag the film out from the depths of mediocrity, making it very watchable. There are a few cameos from Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro and Owen Wilson but none are able make any real impact and it’s a wonder why they were even asked in the first place.
The biggest saving grace for Inherent Vice is that the jokes are plentiful and genuinely funny. The first half whizzes by leaving very little time to compose your thoughts and make sense of the ramshackle plot. But, then the film begins to suffer, sagging under its own weight. Paul Thomas Anderson enjoys making his movies long, but at two-and-a-half hours, it’s simply too much. The jokes dry up, but the general ridiculousness of the plot stays on course which leaves a frustrated feeling.
Inherent Vice will polarise viewers. Many people have walked out during screenings, and there were also a few early-leavers when I saw the film. But, really it only has itself to blame. It takes a long time to realise just what genre it is, and for some it was obviously too late. First and foremost, this is a comedy. But, perhaps it needed to nail its colours to the mast a bit earlier. The journey is more important than the destination, and if you remember that, you’ll enjoy it just fine.