Just as “Wes Anderson” has become an adjective, so too has “Paul Thomas Anderson.” So when I say that I mostly hated Inherent Vice, do not take that as a disparagement against the PT Anderson brand. For Inherent Vice was completely unrecognizable as a PT Anderson film. And it will remain so as long as PT Anderson returns to making PT Anderson pics.
Since most of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” was meant to be impenetrable, the best approach, as you watch it drift by, is to savor the dreamy images and druggy jokes—the action is set in the stoner precincts of Los Angeles in 1970—and forget about penetrating the plot.
That’s how most critics took the film. Just sit back and go with the groove. Forget about the story. Hey I’m hip, baby. But 2 1/2 hours of vibe gets tedious. By the end, even the humorous parts wear thin. What great films do is put you in their world, but then use that world as a backdrop to the story. Think Fargo, Gattaca, Pulp Fiction, Donnie Darko, and After Dark, My Sweet. So when a world of critics tell me to slip into the world of Inherent Vice and forget about story I say no. That doesn’t work for me. Story matters.
Other critics have pointed out that Inherent Vice does a good job of remaining faithful to the novel. On this point I don’t care. Apparently that was the downfall of Wild. If you can stay faithful to the book and make a good movie, more power to you. But first you need to make a good movie.
Something else occurred to me scanning the reviews. Lately it seems critics are instantly enamored with whatever junk a filmmaker puts out there, as long as it’s set in the ’70s. That was the explanation I gave for all the praise American Hustle received. Here we go again.
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Inherent Vice is a scattershot mess, a train wreck disguised as an ingenious labyrinth. A series of conversations with little to no action never works in a movie. It’s trying to be some type of latter-day Chinatown or Big Sleep or Jackie Brown. But those movies focus on story first, then on atmosphere.
The Big Lebowski is the other obvious comparison. I’m a fan of Joaquin Phoenix, and his “Dude” is great here. As much as I disliked this movie, the funny scenes mostly worked for me. And there are other good parts; a rather brilliant sex scene stands out. But mostly, PT Anderson’s attempt at some crazy cross of David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers utterly fails. He needs to stick to being PT Anderson. 3/10