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Inherent Vice: My take on the movie starring Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin

Inherent Vice:  An exclusion found in most property insurance policies eliminating coverage for loss      caused by a quality in property that causes it to damage or destroy itself.

Basically, you can't get insurance that covers a built in flaw. Would that you could, eh?

In a way, I was the beneficiary of the 'inherent vice' of my son's job the other day. Even though he's  currently working as a production assistant on a television show, my husband invited him to a 7pm screening of Inherent Vice. The screening was followed by a Q&A with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the directors our son most admires. However showtime was 7pm, and when you're working as a p.a. in Hollywood, thinking you'll be anywhere but on set at 7pm is simply stinkin' thinking. It's not going to happen.

Luckily, yours truly was able to swoop in at the last minute and take his place. All in a day's work for this mom; I'm a giver.

Okay, Inherent Vice. As you know I loved the book, not so much for the plot — Doc AKA Stoner detective, is trying to find his ex-old lady, Shasta and her current old man, the wealthy real estate developer Micky Wolfman — but for the magical mystery tour that reveals life in So Cal back in the day. The day being 1970.

I think the story, full of twisty plot turns, was also secondary to Pynchon, who had a lot of fun creating a crazy cast of characters. Paul Thomas Anderson took the best of them and had himself a whole lot of fun re-imagining them for the movie and having Doc (channeled adroitly by the masterful Joaquin Phoenix)— tripping along in his stoner daze like he does — encounter them in his tribute to the author and to California, the state he loves. While Doc travels further afield in Pynchon's novel, Anderson reins in Joaquin Phoenix's Sportello a bit, both in where he gets to and how he gets there. While still the very stoned out detective, and quite the crazy, he's not quite the crazy Pynchon gives us — I was disappointed Joaquin Phoenix didn't sing.  Still he gets around, encountering wacko after wacko going from the fictional Gordita Beach to Topanga to Ojai to the Glass House AKA Parker Center, the police station in downtown L.A. and various and sundry locales in between.

Here's the thing, while Doc the stoner should be the wackiest of the wack jobs, he actually serves as the voice of sanity, pointing out the craziness of the other characters, the insanity of the world around us. Quite directly as he stares in disbelief at Josh Brolin's brilliantly funny BigFoot Bjornsen as the LAPD detective orders more pancakes in a bizarre language hybrid. Not to be outdone is Martin Short's oversexed dentist, Dr. Blatnoyd, Owen Wilson who pops up again and again as Coy Harligen, a recovering heroin addict turned temporarily brainwashed shill for the Nixon admin and Benicio del Toro as Doc's lawyer Sauncho Smilax of whom Doc asks 'whose side are you on?' Indeed! That's the question of the day. Whose side are you on? Reese Witherspoon is sensibly conservative in her role as Penny, the assistant DA; secretly dating Doc, Penny perfectly represents the two-faced straight world,  'the system', the man, all of which conspire to keep the average citizen in his or her place, so the greedy corporations and the politicians in bed with them, can keep on keeping on. In contrast to all the misdeeds of the thugs and the police, Doc Sportello is the good guy, a wise man, in a film filled with liars and fools, 'gypsies, tramps and thieves.'

Anderson expands the role of Sortilége from the book where she waxed poetic about the lost continent of Lemuria; in PTA's film, Joanna Newsom's "Lége" does the voice over as Doc's maternal, all-knowing side-kick, the teller and interpreter of Doc's wistful tale. She has a beautifully nuanced and wispy voice filled with affection for Doc, a bit of a romantic fool himself. He's clearly still head over heels in love with Shasta played by Katherine Waterston — shimmering bravely in the part that calls for a complex mix of sweetness, toughness and a flash of full frontal nudity.

Like Pynchon, Inherent Vice may not appeal to everyone; it's pretty far-out there in its meandering ways. The humor —much of it digging at Doc and his marijuana-induced haze — is much smarter than that sounds. It's sharp and comes in unexpected bursts. The comedy is also sharply critical of our culture; while the world portrayed is the top of the 70's, the ideas are contemporary as the wealthy continue to devour the rest of us, sucking up our savings as they record record profits and the number of the poor and disenfranchised continue to grow.

Did I read the book? Yes, and you can read my take on the book here. But you don't have to have read the book to see this film; my husband had not read Inherent Vice but enjoyed the film just as much as I did. You may have heard PTA changed up the ending of Thomas Pynchon's book; he did. I'm still mulling over how I feel about that: I liked Pynchon's original ending, but if I look at the two as separate beings, PTA's version worked beautifully too.

The movie comes out December 16th; why don't you see it and let me know what you think? We can compare points of view.

After the screening which received applause I'd define as warm but not wild, Paul Thomas Anderson and the moderator took to the stage for their discussion. I took notes rapidly, so much so that my handwriting is very difficult to decipher, but I will transcribe them here when I can. Overall PTA, lean and rangy with a shock of grey in his hair, was funny and passionate. Talking about his reasons for making the film he spoke about the feeling that he used to think the world was going to change, but that he still wakes up everyday, reads the paper and says "WHAT THE FUCK!?!"

Here's the trailer ... enjoy.