The latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson is a surprisingly comedic crime drama. Imagine if The Big Lebowski had a threesome with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Chinatown, a wild sexcapade in the 1970s birthing a thriller baby on a boat near LA. And Martin Short was there. That’s Inherent Vice.
I was on board for the first half of the film, which moved at a quick pace, throwing killer characters and dirty, noir story at us while we tried to play along and solve the mystery. But then, the film hit the story breaks and got slow and weird. In a sexual way. A boring sexual way. It kind of wrapped up, with a resolution that I didn’t quite follow and an unsettling confrontation that fizzled out.
I almost felt like the beginning was too good, too normal, and the ending was disappointing and not weird enough. But I have to see this movie again. I feel compelled to.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Doc, a hippie PI who gets a visit from his ex, femme fatale Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston). Doc chases her case down the rabbit hole to investigate her rich lover, the married real estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann. His wife and her boy toy might be trying to get Wolfmann committed. To steal his money? Sure. There’s something else going on, which Doc learns when he visits Jade at the beach brothel (they have a pussy eating special, you know, like you do). He’s left unconscious next to a dead body, straight into the arms of Josh Brolin’s detective Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen of the LAPD. Luckily, Doc’s lawyer is Sauncho Smilax (Benicio del Toro), a sea captain. I think. Also, it’s about drugs and dentistry.
Good, right? You love it, right?
So, this all hits a dead end for me when Shasta comes back into Doc’s life. She shows up, gets naked, and we all know this scene is going to end in sex and tears. She’s acting the heck out of it, but I left to go to the bathroom. I knew it was probably at least another five minutes of snooze dialogue and I don’t really give a shit about her tits. (They’re lovely; I just really want to know more about the conspiracy and murder stuff.) I got back to my seat with plenty of boring chat left, and of course, he bones her. She cries. Relationships are complicated. We learn she’s not really the femme fatale, she’s just a femme banal.
Doc follows a lead, Bigfoot shows up, there’s some stuff about drugs, and then, it ends.
Normally, a PT Anderson film would leave me feeling uncomfortable and confused, and I would totally be cool with that. But, I felt let down because Inherent Vice has a great set up. Maybe too good. The film couldn’t sustain its comedy either, because what is a good joke without a great punchline? I don’t know, maybe I just wanted Reese Witherspoon to turn out to be the bad guy. That would be awesome.