Supernerd Tries to Make Sense of Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Inherent Vice’

by: S. Scott Stanikmas

The newest Paul Thomas Anderson movie Inherent Vice is a strange animal. Much like private investigator/pothead Larry “Doc” Sportella this film lumps it’s way along in a haze of marijuana smoke. It wants to feel like it did a good enough job to warrant being called a “new and modern classic.” While it was ably acted and wondefully shot I’m not so sure I can give this film such lofty praise.

PTA’s adaptation of the recent Thomas Pynchon novel comes across as quirky and meandering, putting things in play that don’t always get resolved and hoping you’ll look past it and just enjoy the ride for what it is.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc as a hippie with a heart of gold. When his ex-girlfriend shows up looking for his help with her boyfriend and his wife and HER boyfriend, you can almost see the smoke come out of Phoenix’s ears as he tries to process just what the hell is going on. Doc is a great character but he always just felt like that – a character and not a real person.

Along the way Doc gets pulled into another few missing person’s cases involving a militant black ex-con looking for his white supremacist jailbird buddy and a supposedly dead musician whose wife doesn’t believe that he’s actually dead. Throw in a drug smuggling syndicate and a hired killer with police immunity and you’ve got enough for a series of films.

But Anderson throws them all into the blender here, and what we get isn’t the smoothie he was probably hoping for. It’s more like that chunky juice drink you first made when you got into being healthy and just threw everything you could think of into the veg-o-matic and prayed for the best.

Yang to Doc’s Yin was Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, a detective with the LAPD who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty and bloody as long as the “good guys” win at the end of the day. Josh Brolin as Bigfoot was a highlight to watch onscreen (until his awkward last scene that didn’t seem to make much sense to me). The physical prescence he brought almost made up for the shortcomings this film had.

The rest of the supporting cast was top notch. Everyone had a moment or two where they could shine. From Jena Malone to Eric Roberts to Owen Wilson to Benicio del Toro, everyone had their part and played it right.

Visually this movie was beautiful.Cinematographer and longtime PTA collaborator Robert Elswit really gave this movie a gritty, old school feel. There were times I could swear this was made back in the late seventies, it looked that good.

I’m not saying that I need everything wrapped up in a neat little bow for me to enjoy, but some of the unanswered questions from this movie are still driving me nuts a few days after seeing it. For spoilers sake I won’t go into detail. I’ll just leave on a high note and say that I hope that this becomes better upon future viewings.

Who knows? Maybe Doc’s got something laying around that we can light up to help this movie make a little sense.