Sex, drugs, ‘vices’ depict hippie culture in drama

By Arthur Aumann

A drug-fueled adventure of a man searching for his ex-girlfriend — or what sounds like an average Friday night in DeKalb — is the subject of the film “Inherent Vice,” released Jan. 9.

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Larry “Doc” Sportello, a befuddled pothead and private investigator who is dragged into a web of infidelity and mystery by his ex-girlfriend Shasta, played by Katherine Waterston. Shasta warns Doc that her current boyfriend’s wife and her illicit lover are planning a scheme to rob Shasta’s boyfriend, Mickey Wolfmann, of all his money, and they want to cut her in on it.

Shortly after, Shasta goes missing and Doc investigates her disappearance, navigating through drug-infested ’70s California in search of answers. His search leads him to a brothel, a real estate mogul, a broken family and a drug cartel.

In a film filled with eccentric performances, Josh Brolin has the best as “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, a Los Angeles detective who has an unconventionally ambiguous relationship with Doc. Bigfoot ranges from trusting Doc as a colleague to actively finding ways to screw him over.

Michael K. Williams and Reese Witherspoon also have brief, forgettable appearances as a black supremacist convict and a lawyer, respectively.

The film does an excellent job of capturing the cultural zeitgeist of the hippie and drug movement of the ’70s. Jonny Greenwood’s score is fantastic and his blend of classic and contemporary music perfectly captures the atmosphere of California hippie culture in the ’70s.

The script is a different story; while I didn’t read Thomas Pynchon’s novel, which the movie is based on, I can’t imagine the book is as hard to follow as the film is at times. Too many convoluted subplots and quasi-insignificant characters in the film can frustrate and confuse audiences. The movie ends on a kind of bittersweet note and doesn’t really leave anything solid to take away.

The script isn’t a weakness of the film, but the haziness of the world director Paul Thomas Anderson has created just won’t be as accessible for average moviegoers who could easily view “Inherent Vice” as nothing more than a psychedelic sex comedy. The film does a better job of portraying the mood and tone of the era than it does satisfying the audience with answers.

Anderson’s sense of humor is an acquired taste; for those not familiar with it, “Inherent Vice” probably isn’t the best place to start. For fans of Anderson’s previous works such as “Magnolia” or “Boogie Nights,” or for moviegoers who don’t need everything tied up in a perfect Hollywood bow, “Inherent Vice” is a must-see film.