Inherent Vice

January 11, 2015 at 9:39 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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◊ ½

While I was struggling to explain to my friends what bothered me about this film, one of them summed it up perfectly for me: “Inherent Vice” is the uneasy child of a one-night stand between “The Big Lebowski” and “L.A. Confidential.” It strives for the light-hearted goofiness of Lebowski within the frame work of a plot so convoluted none of us were able to follow it. Director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights,” “There Will Be Blood,” “The Master”) is incredibly talented and has a knack for drawing stunning performances from his actors and he has no shortage of them willing to work with him, as evidenced by the huge cast here, some of whom (Maya Rudolph, Reese Witherspoon, Eric Roberts) were willing to show up for tiny roles. It’s a shame most of them weren’t better utilized. Joaquin Phoenix’s Doc fumbles and smokes his way around early 70s LA as a cavalcade of capital-E Eccentric characters drift across his path. Some of these characters, like Josh Brolin’s “Bigfoot,” work and are quite funny. Others, like Martin Short’s dentist, do not. Much of the dialogue feels self-consciously funny and relies too much on humor about the era. But if there was a pleasant surprise here it was in discovering that Phoenix is a skilled physical comic. The best part of the film was in watching his facial expressions; they were, in fact, the only time I really laughed. He has an instinct for the scene and how to draw the audience into his thoughts. Through him, we could appreciate the absurdity of his situation. If only that had been enough, though it seemed to be for most of the audience, who laughed riotously many times. For me, the film was otherwise tedious, difficult to follow and (at two and half hours) seemed endless.

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