Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation. Every single one of his films is impeccably directed, feature mesmerizing performances and tackle interesting, weighty themes. In fact, I would consider three of his projects (Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood) to be some of my all-time favorite films. Because of his impressive filmography, I was very excited for his newest film, Inherent Vice. Adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name, it’s a mix between a zany stoner comedy and a convoluted noir. It’s probably one of Anderson’s weaker films, but Anderson’s solid direction and a fantastic cast make this a joint worth enjoying.

The year is 1970 and Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a private investigator, living near the beach in Los Angeles. One day, Doc receives a visit from his former lover, Shasta (Katherine Waterston). She tells him that she is currently seeing a man named Mickey Wolfman (Eric Roberts), an extremely wealthy real estate mogul whose wife is plotting to commit him to an insane asylum. Shasta asks for Doc’s help in preventing this from happening, which leads Doc on an extremely complicated mission involving an angry police lieutenant (Josh Brolin), a missing saxophone player (Owen Wilson) and a drug-fueled dentist (Martin Short).

Some may complain that Anderson’s seventh effort is far too confusing, but that’s precisely the point of this hazy, marijuana-laced head scratcher. It feels like a throwback to classic noir films, which featured too many characters and too much plot, but they were still effective regardless. Anyone who is familiar with 1946’s The Big Sleep will be able to draw comparisons between the two, but Anderson’s effort has enough of a unique identity so that it doesn’t feel like a dull rehash. And while the film is definitely tough to follow, it’s not impossible to understand. The hardest thing to comprehend is how Doc is able to piece everything together, but viewers who don’t feel the need to understand every minute detail will be content with understanding the gist of things.

But even if you can’t understand what’s going on, you should be able to appreciate the very funny moments that pop up throughout the film. It might be Anderson’s funniest film to date, filled with weird characters and even weirder situations. You get to watch Josh Brolin deep throat a frozen banana, Martin Short energetically run around with his pants at his ankles and Joaquin Phoenix scream out loud when shown a picture of a malnourished baby. It’s all very funny and it helps that several moments in the film border on the surreal, most likely due to Doc’s drug-induced haze. You’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s not and it all helps to serve the loopy, delirious plot.

Nearly all of Anderson’s films are quite long and this is no exception, but here you actually can feel the movie’s length. It sags in the middle and begins to feel quite long towards the end, but thankfully the great performances and comedic situations prevent the film from becoming too dull. Inherent Vice is certainly not for everybody, but fans of Anderson’s past works should be pleased, as will fans of densely plotted mysteries. It’s definitely not one of Anderson’s strongest works, but even a weak film from Paul Thomas Anderson is quite good.

Inherent Vice receives 3/4

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