I have a troubled relationship with Thomas Pynchon; he’s capable of real genius and he defines idiosyncratic, which I like, but he’s also given to wasting a lot of my time between moments of genius and sometimes there’s nothing of any real substance behind the idiosyncrasies. Well, anyway, I had trepidations, but I was also intrigued, as I entered the theater to see PTA adapting Pynchon. First, the good. The cast is phenomenal almost all the way down to the ground. Phoenix really anchors the film with his winning, burned out performance in the lead. Katherine Waterston is the real heart of the movie, however, and she gives a great performance. Martin Short is possibly career best in an unhinged extended cameo and, speaking of cameos, Eric Roberts gets off a genuinely phenomenal one. Michelle Sinclair and Jena Malone are both wry and perfectly cast in their roles. Owen Wilson gives his best performance in ages and ages, maybe only his second truly great one. Michael K. Williams takes a tiny scene and lights the screen on fire. Hong Chau takes a fairly thinly written part and just absolutely owns it with a fully committed performance. You probably notice I didn’t mention Josh Brolin; well, he’s a good cast, but I’m not entirely sure about his performance. Particularly toward the end, he really stopped working for me in some pretty critical ways. Also, great visual style, costumes & set design and music. The script? It’s Pynchon. I can’t really blame PTA for the flaws I see here. They just came with the territory when he decided to adapt Pynchon. The pointless obfuscation, the plot no one, least of all the characters, care about, the lack of emotional resonance and the disquieting suspicion of none of this being worth anyone’s time? Those are all Pynchon, not Anderson. It’s a film that I wrestled with quite a bit as I was watching it and even more after I was done. At the end of the day, I had no idea how to rate a movie this riveting, entertaining, well-acted, that was also somehow sloppy, incoherent, disingenuous and overly high on its own cuteness. It came down to the way I’d recommend it; this movie is deeply flawed and profoundly weird, but in the final estimation, it’s a deeply flawed and profoundly weird movie that you really do have to see, for all the great things in it and even for some of the bad. It’s one of those movies like Scarface, though Inherent Vice is a good sight better than Scarface. I’m not sure how good it is, but I know it’s great. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – imperfect, incoherent, often silly movie is also a bravura technical achievement and a masterclass in acting from all concerned; Pynchon on screen couldn’t be any more or any less. 4 stars.