Inherent Vice is a modern day The Big Sleep. If you’ve seen The Big Sleep, you’ll recall it’s very well done with great performances, but you’d be hard pressed to explain how Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) solves the mystery. I didn’t like it.
‘70s era gumshoe Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is looking for Shasta (Katherine Waterston) and the case introduces him to a number of memorable characters. I appreciate that the mystery is a vehicle for a lot of good actors to give a great performance in only one scene, but even the regular characters pop in and out in a somewhat disjointed fashion.
The movie is funny, mostly in random moments like a sudden scream, a suspect’s pants falling down, Doc sneaking around looking goofy, his D.A. contact (Reese Witherspoon) asking him to wash his feet, the notes he takes in his notebook and some good old pratfalls. I love weirdness but maybe this is too conscious.
There’s also so much drug humor. Isn’t doing lots of drugs awesome? I know it was the ‘70s but I’m still over the drug culture. A lot of it is the undercurrent of hippie stuff versus squares, but it doesn’t really make a case that the hippie lifestyle is worth fighting for. I kind of like wearing shoes and having enough money to pay for things I need. And being sober, but that’s just me.
That said, the tone is entirely consistent for two and a half hours. So if you were to gravitate towards a hippie comedy mystery, Paul Thomas Anderson and the cast deliver for the epic investigation.
So Inherent Vice is not for me but it is every bit what the filmmakers intended it to be. It keeps up the weirdness, it’s got the period details right, it never falls into a rigid structure yet it follows the genre faithfully. Perhaps it’s a highbrow Harold and Kumar movie and I’m missing it, but you’ll know if it’s right for you.