You’ve been invited over to a friend’s house and he has you sit on his couch and starts making smalltalk about your trip. He asks where you and your wife where you’re staying while in town and he reveals that he already knows the answer to the question.
Reese Witherspoon is a type of host that blends in with the cast and feels at home, similar to how Cameron Diaz’s episode played earlier in the season — Witherspoon’s outing even shares a sketch with Diaz’s. Unlike last week’s episode where there was always this nagging that the writers had no idea what to do with the talent they had on hands, Witherspoon settles perfectly into her role as support, best seen in her monologue where she simply introduces the cast and their mothers so that they can tell cute and embarrassing stories, like how Jay Pharoah was always throwing the artfully crafted sandwiches his mom would make for him. Witherspoon still gets a handful of laugh lines throughout, particularly in a rare-for-a-host appearance on Weekend Update, but her real strength comes from not hijacking the evening, allowing the sketches to live or die on their own merit.
Wild is a mildly-satisfying travelogue through one woman’s troubled life that never quite delivers the catharsis it promises. Reese Witherspoon gives a brave, physically-demanding performance, despite her character’s unconvincing psychological transformation. Director Jean-Marc Vallée deftly intertwines our hero’s tragic past with her epic hike along the Pacific coast, but neither informs one another on an emotional level. The result is a beautiful looking film that feels lonelier than a desolate mountain pass.
In the wake of tragic events that include her inevitable divorce from affable husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski), the heart-wrenching death of her free-spirited mother Bobbi (Laura Dern), sour memories of a chaotic childhood with her younger brother that featured an abusive stepfather (as well as heroin addiction and random reckless sexual encounters), native Minnesotan Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) sets out to conquer the Pacific Crest Trail as a therapeutic means to confront her heavy disillusionment. We witness the determined hotel-bound Cheryl trying to handle her overstuffed backpack (later to be nicknamed “Monster”) that is perched on her petite shoulders and back. And so she sets off, ready to embark on a mission to walk off her major angst-ridden hostilities and heartache in the trying trail that lies ahead.
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.