Watch my Movie Minute review of Inherent Vice:
This one hurts. Paul Thomas Anderson has had his first misfire. With a resume that includes Magnolia, Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, Punch-Drunk Love, and The Master, the director has finally made a flick that just doesn’t work, but it’s actually not really his fault. Inherent Vice is the most comedic Anderson has ever gotten. He brought the zaniness in Punch-Drunk Love, but while he was able to keep the out-of-control top spinning on the Adam Sandler-Emily Watson romance, here, it topples over.
Adapted from a book, Inherent Vice focuses on Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a stoner private detective who somehow gets the job done. If you recall, Joaquin in his “art project” days a few years ago when he was acting like a space cadet, you’ll be prepared for his performance here, but that’s not giving Joaquin’s performance enough credit, which deservedly got a Golden Globe nomination. He’s fantastic as the loopy private eye and he carries the film really well. The entire ensemble is stellar. You can see why this material appealing to everyone. It offers everyone rich character roles in scenes that really let them explore, while saying witty banter.
Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, and Katherine Waterston each have a scene with Phoenix where the camera just stays in one shot, and lets the actors do their thing like a scene from a play, and it works. It’s really fun watching Joaquin and Reese (who plays a D.A.) reunite onscreen in two completely different roles after they played Johnny and June Carter Cash in Walk The Line. We also get to see Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin having way too much fun. Even the brief roles are filled out by Martin Short, Jena Malone, Michael Kenneth Williams, Eric Roberts, Martin Donovan, and Maya Rudolph (PTA’s real-life partner).
Each scene is quirky and Anderson directs it well, but the plot of this thing. Oh man. Almost every scene introduces a new character name that we have to keep track of. The expository dialogue is hidden with all this zaniness and at a certain point, it’s impossible to keep up. Anderson effectively makes you feel like you’re the stoner trying to figure it all out in a haze, but at 2.5 hours, it just gets insufferable. The story needed to be streamlined and more focused, but since this is based on a novel, literal fans probably would have been up in arms if too much had been left out of the screenplay.
So in the end, you can tell the actors are having a ton of fun performing Inherent Vice, but the audience is just left scratching their heads and wondering when the heck they can leave the party.