Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sex and Laughter in "Inherent Vice"


Joaquin Phoenix Gets Groovy in "Inherent Vice"

By Skip Sheffield

Far out man!
Stumble back into the early 1970s with Joaquin Phoenix and “Inherent Vice.”
Thomas Pynchon is noted for his dense, baffling novels such as “Gravity’s Rainbow,” “Crying of Lot 49” and “V.” I stumbled upon Pynchon as a college student and became entranced with his obvious intelligence, humor and total weirdness.
I never read “Inherent Vice,” which was published in 2009, but I recognize Pynchon’s weirdness and extreme intelligence in the character of Larry “Doc” Sportello, played by another celebrated weird guy, Joaquin Phoenix. Sportello is a private eye in Los Angeles in 1970, living in a seaside community very much like Manhattan Beach. Why he is called Doc is never explained, but that’s Pynchon for you.
Phoenix grew huge muttonchop sideburns for his character and his attitude is that of a typical Southern California stoner, always in a marijuana haze.
The setup for the story is a visit by an ex-girlfriend Shasta, played by Katherine Waterston. I was nor familiar with British-born Katherine Waterston, but let me put it bluntly: she is one beautious babe.
The fictional Shasta is involved with a slimy developer, Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts, who does slime very well).
Mickey will disappear, but we will see him again, as we will Shasta. Meanwhile Doc gets a legitimate job from Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone), a former junkie who wants Doc to find her AWOL musician husband Coy (Owen Wilson, who always seems stoned even if he is completely sober).

This is a seventh feature for director Paul Thomas Anderson, who wrote the screenplay. It is the funniest, sexiest movie he has done since "Boogie Nights" back in 1997. The film abounds in celebrity cameos and bizaare names, such as Martin Short as Japonica Fenway and Maya Rudolph as Petunia Leeway. Reece Witherspoon is at her deadpan best as Deputy District Attorney Penny Kimball and Josh Brolin is a hoot as a literally square-headed Lt. Det. Christian F. Bjornsen, known as "Bigfoot." What a long, strange trip it is.