If you’re like me, and you abstain from weed because some people really shouldn’t do drugs, you might need two or three viewings to totally get the vibe and plot of Inherent Vice.
If, however, you smoke daily and watch the movie mildly high, you might follow everything in one shot.
I’ve watched director Paul Thomas Andersons’s latest twice now, and it was almost like watching a different movie the second time through. I enjoyed it very much both times, but the language and proceedings made more sense to me the second go-round.
No, I didn’t do bong hits the second time I watched, but I guess I must have some sort of latent stoner sensibility stored in my brain from years’ past bong hits. Mind you, it takes some prodding—like a second movie viewing—to make my latent stoner cells awaken and decode drugspeak, but when it does, everything’s cool.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc, a sloppy private investigator in 1970 Los Angeles who operates, inexplicably, out of a doctor’s office. When an ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) goes missing, he conducts a haphazard investigation into her disappearance that involves dead people who aren’t dead, drug dealers and kidnapped real estate moguls. All of these things are being investigated by a guy who is seriously high most of the time, and just sort of piecing things together at his own mellow, sometimes clumsy pace.
Along the way, Doc comes across a parade of colorful characters portrayed memorably by a first-rate cast. Josh Brolin is perfection as an unstable macho cop with a penchant for kicking down Doc’s door. Phoenix and Brolin have a lot of fun making the characters bitter enemies, yet almost chummy at times. Brolin’s final scene is, shall we say, surreal and bizarre on joyous levels.
Owen Wilson does some of his best film work in years as a musician, believed dead, who has gone into hiding. He has some scenes with Phoenix that are borderline brilliance, as does Martin Short as a lascivious dentist with a taste for young girls and pharmaceutical grade cocaine. In fact, even though it is only a couple of scenes, Anderson may have given Short his best role since his SCTV days.
Benicio del Toro shows up as Doc’s attorney, which reminds me of his similar role in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Reese Witherspoon caps off a great year playing Doc’s uptight current girlfriend, and Jena Malone has a terrific scene as a wife who pleasantly and happily discusses her drug addiction and missing husband.
The mystery, if you want to call it that, ties up cleaner than you think it does. The film, despite what some folks are saying, has a beginning, middle and end that makes sense. You just have to work at it a bit.
The locations, clothing and hairstyles are very ’70s. The film plays like a stoner mood piece, swinging from relaxed to paranoid, unintelligible to highly coherent, as if going through the phases of some high grade kush.
So, you might be thinking “Hey, this sounds a little bit like The Big Lebowski" based on my descriptions and the weed talk. Lebowski was a lot cuter and far funnier. Both stories do, however, feature a stoner dude investigating a missing person. It should be noted that the Coens wrote and produced Lebowski 11 years before Thomas Pynchon published the novel Inherent Vice is based on.
If you’ve never smoked weed, but have a friend that does, go see the movie with him or her. I think there’s a chance you will emerge not quite getting it, while your friend’s mind will be blown. He or she will explain some things to you, and you’ll be all set for a healthy, more informed second viewing.
Also, don’t smoke weed for the first time before seeing Inherent Vice. The stuff out there now is pretty damned powerful, and the sight of Phoenix’s Wolverine chops will surely freak a first timer out.