Inherent Vice

Picture this: ridiculous hairstyles, caricature style personalities, a funky soundtrack, clever and witty dialogue sprinkled with pop culture references and obscene food-based props. Sounds like a Tarantino film if you ever heard one right? Well, no, this is in fact Inherent Vice, a comedy/crime drama from the same director that brought you the hilarious hits There Will Be Blood and The Master. I know right? From the trailer I was expecting Inherent Vice to be funny, but it does comedy in a way that is so incredibly subtle in a storyline that is so labyrinthine that by the time you’ve gotten the joke (ie, about 2-3 scenes after it has hit) you find yourself giggling like a maniac as some poor bastard is being shot at. Not ideal.

I sort of have myself to blame for this, I knew how long the film was and being a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson was well aware of his Tarantino on Xanax: all of the wit and colour and cool but slowed down to a snails pace that ends up playing like a weird chilled out high, quite fitting when considering the protagonist spends a good portion of the movie blazing one up. Trouble is that, as mellow as the pacing of Inherent Vice was it did not mix well with a Monday night viewing having just endured a 9-5. I felt like I was falling asleep through a lot of it and I know that PTA movies do have the tendency to draw themselves out a bit but never to the point where I’ve felt the weight of my eyelids.

As a crime-thriller it was fairly difficult to keep track of (especially with my aforementioned sleepiness). I feel like Inherent Vice would have been a lot more easily received had it been a four part TV drama of one hour episodes, it definitely watched like one! So many strands of storyline were coming in from so many angles that my brain hurt a bit from trying to determine how they all fit together. Experienced through the lens of paranoia of the constantly high Doc (the ever brilliant Joaquin Phoenix) and the puzzle becomes even more unfathomable. But I quite like that in a film. In my opinion films work better when they do not have a determined end, but rather portray a snippet in a person’s life. Life never really reaches an ultimate denouement and so rather than leaving with a false happy ending where we constantly wonder well yes, but what happened after that? Life in Inherent Vice seems to just carry on to the next thing, like a chapter in a book as opposed to the whole story. It’s more realistic that way and hence more relatable, which in this film’s case only served to heighten the comedy.

The comedy timing in Inherent Vice is impeccable; drawn out scene after drawn out scene whose tension is suddenly cracked by a man munching on an obscene chocolate covered banana or clumsy handling of a body. The contrast between the mellow hippy that is Phoenix’s Doc played against the clean cut straight-faced Bigfoot paved the course for some unforgettable moments and, like the legendary Dirk Diggler (Boogie Nights) and Barry Egan (Punch Drunk Love), development of characters whom I grew to love equally but for completely different reasons.

Paul Thomas Anderson seems to have this knack of capturing something and making it look incredibly high fashion. In The Master the look was clearly glamour and elegance, Inherent Vice has cashed in on the current popularity of 70s couture and gone for a post-Summer-of-Love bohemian palette, set off with the use of 35mm film for that haziness akin to the filmmaking of that era. And the costumes. The absurdity of 70s fashion choices depicted in Inherent Vice has deservedly earned the film one of its two Oscar nods. Again, it is that undeniable stylish flare that PTA brings to his films that make them so utterly watchable despite having a narrative that is thematically all over the place.

I’d like to watch Inherent Vice again in a higher state of consciousness but alas I don’t think I could stomach the gruelling 148 minute running time again for a while. Despite what my drowsiness may have caused me to miss I still enjoyed Inherent Vice the way one enjoys flicking through a copy of Vogue. Gorgeous to behold and admire aesthetically but too dense to actually wrap my head around and begin to draw any sense out of. It was dashed with enough humour to keep trundling along and some moments did have me in a fit of giggles but I fear the perplexing storyline makes Inherent Vice too difficult to penetrate further.