The splitting of the conclusions of recent fantasy or sci-fi franchises into two parts (or more – looking at you, Peter Jackson) has been financially successful for Hollywood studios, but less so creatively. Only arguable trendsetter Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I proved a satisfying film in its own right by being so rich in character interplay and having an actual sense of progression. Mockingjay – Part I is heavy on character beats, but they are repetitive ones due to its limited scope through withholding all the big stuff until Part 2.
It’s not just that Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies tend to defy any one genre description; it’s that, often, it seems as if the writer-director is trying to play with many genres simultaneously. The only reason that Boogie Nights isn’t the best drama of the 1990s is that it spends a lot of time trying to be the best comedy of the 1990s instead. So Anderson’s newest, Inherent Vice, is a departure in that it mostly sticks to one style (sun-drenched film noir) and one tone (absurdist comedy). It’s also a fine film, which suffers only when measured against the insanely high standard that Anderson’s past work has set.
Even if you were not around during the 1970s, Inherent Vice comes across as a faded, nostalgic memory. Being a faithful adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel, the film recounts the dying days of the free love era, laced with the look, feel and paraphernalia of the subculture. Anderson’s comedic thriller peppers itself with restless, almost out of place laughter, while dedicating itself to the themes of the early Seventies. One is reminded of private-eye classics such as Roman Polanski’s Chinatown and Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, with traces of Zucker-Abrahams comedies like Airplane! and The Naked Gun. For many, the homage to 1970s filmmaking will be a very real and thrilling look down memory lane. For others, it’ll be a history lesson like no other found in modern day filmmaking.