Maybe it’s just because I’ve been listening to a lot …
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.
Of course, Guardians isn’t perfect, as it struggles to find a consistent tone. Sometimes it wants to be more adult, with bawdier language and sexual innuendo. For instance, Quill’s rumination that “If I had a black light, this place would look like a Jackson Pollock painting!” is pretty sophisticated for mainstream PG-13 fare. Other times, it feels as though the filmmakers are pandering to a much younger audience. You can almost visualize a ‘Dancing Groot’ doll gyrating in your kid’s Happy Meal.
For every good sequence, there’s one that’s muddled with bad camerawork and editing. Like a lot of blockbuster action, it’s barely legible; you have to work to keep up with it, and that work interferes with the enjoyment. The story also sags in the middle, as it seems to exist mainly to fill out the run-time. The protagonists take the MacGuffin to a dude they wish to sell it to, but the only real function of the section is to exposit what it is. It turns a big chunk of the plot into a shrug.
Labor Day is far darker and perilous than writer/director Jason Reitman’s previous fare. Illness, broken hearts, and tragedy take center stage. Characters are not coddled and nothing feels ironic. Judging from this outing, drama may suit Reitman better than the snappy, sardonic exchanges we’ve gotten used to from him. Kate Winslet plays Adele, a woman long ago drained of love for the world, raising a son that wants to believe that a pure, transformative and truly supportive love exists for his mother. Into their lives enters Frank (Josh Brolin), an escaped convict who takes them hostage and back to their home to wait out the heat from the cops. Brought together by circumstance, what develops between the three of them is something surprising, rich, and strange.