A Narrative Guaranteed to Frustrate – Inherent Vice (2014)

A disappointing mess.  Based on the Thomas Pynchon novel, this is about hippie private investigator (Joaquin Phoenix), looking into the disappearance of a former girlfriend, and crossing his fingers that he doesn’t lose his mind to drugs first.  Now this was one of the movies I was looking to forward to most this Oscar season, and I have a number of reasons why.  1. This is Paul Thomas Anderson behind the camera, one of the directors I frequently champion.  While I merely liked his most recent outing (The Master), I would classify Boogie Nights, Punch-Drunk Love and Magnolia as some of my choice selection favorites.  2. The trailer for this looked fluent and fun.  It’s still one of my favorite trailers of the year; it looks like it has a lot of crazy and engaging plot lines going on at every turn, and it is laugh out loud funny.  3. It’s a drug movie.  When you have your main character completely open to experimenting with any and all illegal substances placed in front of him, it typically means you can perform some creative tricks with your filmmaking.  Well, you know what they say about best laid plans, right?

phoenixThey often go horribly, horribly awry.

Let me break down what this movie is for you: imagine Gone Girl told from the perspective of The Dude from The Big Lebowski, only he’s the one narrating, but being that he is too high to function, he keeps focusing on the stuff that doesn’t matter, leaving out the most interesting details and drawing out the story to the point that you cease to care.  On paper this looks like a surefire winner, but the actual product is an aimless amble to nowhere.  It wears out its welcome quickly because it is so wildly unfocused.  It’s really the writing and the material that I had the biggest problem with, and I can’t say that I’m familiar with the source material, so I don’t know if the issue is condensing down a complex story, but whatever it is, it doesn’t translate well into film.  The trailer, great as it is, also presents a convoluted plot, setting the story by saying, “If it’s a quiet night out at the beach and your ex old lady suddenly out of nowhere shows up with a story about her current billionaire landlady and developer boyfriend and his wife and her boyfriend in a plot of kidnap the billionaire and throw him in the loony bin… maybe you should just look the other way.”

viceAnd honestly, you probably should in this case.

I really don’t have a problem with any of the performances here; I really like the projects that Phoenix is choosing to take, and he gives a committed performance in this role.  Whenever Josh Brolin is onscreen, he usually manages to make what he has to work with pretty humorous, although almost everything that’s funny about this is included in the trailer, so don’t walk into this expecting a lot of laughs.  Anderson’s trademark great cinematography is present, but it’s not enough to save it; I can appreciate how well a shot is set up, but if it’s featured in a story that goes nowhere, it can only take you so far.  This is an impenetrable watch checker that rambles at every chance it gets, and really, all it does is remind you of how frustrating it must be to have a junkie as a good friend.  This movie is a whole lot of talking, and much like Phoenix’s mumbling character, this film is unfocused and unintelligible.

Inherent Vice (2014) **

– Critic for Hire

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