Brow Beat

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece

Joaquin Phoenix.  

Still from YouTube

Perhaps the most anticipated film of the year, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, finally has a trailer. An adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel, the film looks like something of a callback for the director—after the towering one-man dramas of There Will Be Blood and The Master, Anderson has returned to the sprawling, Altmanesque style and Southern California setting of early work like Boogie Nights and Magnolia.

It’s a welcome change. In fact, Inherent Vice looks like a straight-up comedy. In a recent New York Times piece, Anderson revealed that slapstick Zucker Brother comedies, dense with visual gags, were some of the main influences on the film. That plays out in the trailer—there’s a loose and manic feel to it, and the only apparent theme is Joaquin Phoenix falling down in a comical manner.

Fans of the book will also notice that the story on screen seems to hew closely to Pynchon’s text. That’s not to imply that there’s much plot—the book is a meandering stoner-noir about Doc Sportello (Phoenix), a gumshoe detective enlisted by an ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) to investigate a mysterious disappearance. But the film may be the most the reclusive Pynchon has collaborated with anybody, ever. Anderson transcribed the novel sentence by sentence while writing his script, talked with Pynchon frequently throughout production, drew several visuals directly from the text, and even invited the author to make a cameo in the film.

We’ll see if that partnership bears fruit Dec. 12, when the film hits theaters. Rounding out the formidable ensemble cast is Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, and, in a particularly whimsical touch, Joanna Newsom as earth-goddess narrator Sortilège.