I cannot recall having seen people walk out of a film before: but this is exactly what happened during Inherent Vice, and there’s even an entire article dedicated to the subject in The Guardian. Usually, I would find such behaviour extreme, but in this instance, I understood completely. If I had been watching at home, I would have probably turned off, unfazed by never having reached the end.
The film is a mash-up, of bizarre scene after bizarre scene: some of which are funny, but only in a way which offers a moment’s reprieve from the otherwise plodding monotony.
Joaquin Phoenix plays “Doc”, a stoned, Private Investigator, asked by old flame, Shasta, for help regarding her new chap, real estate investor, Micky Wolfmann. The whole premise is to reflect the dazed and confused nature of investigating a complex, case, whilst smoking numerous spliffs. The resulting confusion means that the film itself is consumed by a thick, dense, haze, and gets completely lost.
I have no problem with slow, uneventful films: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Glengarry Glenn Ross being too such examples. The latter is entirely about the acting and dialogue, and it is brilliant: despite being based around a group of real estate salesman and the majority of the film taking place in an office. But they hold your attention through the intrigue of character; whereas I had no interest in what happened to the characters in Inherent Vice at all.
The nature of the dialogue made it uninteresting: and the scene before Doc and Shasta have sex was unbelievably dull. Dialogue heavy films, need to grasp hold of your attention. This does not mean they have to be intense, “who-done-it” thrillers, or contain any tension at all. Quinten Tarantino has proven that dialogue does not have to be relevant to the story whatsoever, for it to be captivating. But Inherent Vice is just tedious.
The only elements I enjoyed, other than the sporadic spouts of humour, was the acting and the soundtrack. But what good is that if you don’t care about the characters? Doc is a refreshing portrayal of the counter-culture, hippy movement, and he has his moments, but I still didn’t care what happened to him. I would have much preferred to have just stayed in and listened to Neil Young.
Having seen There Will Be Blood, I was initially a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson. But then I saw The Master and a question mark appeared. And having seen Inherent Vice the question mark has turned into scepticism.
However, I suspect that this will probably become a cult-classic, amongst those who are alternative for the sake of being alternative: those who will snort derisively, because simpletons don’t understand the art, or even the plot, of such a fabulously niche, film. And in the first page of Google search, I was proven exactly right, as I found this:
Like a match made in high-minded artistic heaven… Inherent Vice is the type of movie tailored to be enjoyed only by a very specific few, who have a very intellectual sense of what cinematic “fun” is. (screenrant.com)
This is just pretentious bollocks at its best. Yes, those who walked out were probably expecting something a bit more conventional, but does that make them instantly wrong?
I stayed until the end, understood the film entirely, and didn’t like it. And shock of all shocks, I’ve watched a fair few films, not just mindless action, or whatever the argument against the non-believers will be, and my favourite era is the 1970s. The Panic in Needle Park is as grim and raw as you can get; and Sleuth is simply mesmerising. These are just two examples from perhaps the most experimental and innovative era of film, that I thoroughly enjoyed.
I’m not sure how you gain acceptance into this exclusive club of the ‘very specific few,’ and quite frankly I don’t care. I’d rather suffer the kidney stone operation, Al Swearengen endures in Deadwood.
But don’t worry, there are still films on a similar line, which the unenlightened film-peasants, might still enjoy.
If you want to see a ‘fun’ trippy film: watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. If you want to watch a ‘fun’, offbeat, drama: watch Birdman. And if you want to watch a ‘fun’, quirky, and oh darling so artistic, comedy: watch The Grand Budapest Hotel (which is my favourite film of the year, by far.)
If Inherent Vice is a film for those who bask in the extravagance of their obscurity, and require such films to fill their superiority complex, you can keep it. But then again, as I’m on the side of the film-peasants, I’m sure I’ve missed the point entirely.