Inherent Vice: Review Of Paul Thomas Anderson’s And Joaquin Phoenix’s Hazy Investigation

Paul Thomas Anderson did not need Joaquin Phoenix to be brilliant, but he films Phoenix brilliantly.

After the evident success of Phantom Thread, nominated Best Picture, and before the release of the next movie starring Joaquin Phoenix – You Were Never Really Here, directed by Lynne Ramsay -, I thought it would be nice to take a look at the earlier association between director Paul Thomas Anderson and Joaquin Phoenix. The duo’s first project was the sublime The Master in 2012 – also starring the excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman. The movie might be the best work of both Anderson as a director and Phoenix as an actor, and Anderson says it’s his favorite work.

For Inherent Vice (2014), the second Paul Thomas Anderson/Joaquin Phoenix movie association, Anderson is highly unpredictable, alway going where we don’t expect him to. Boogie Nights (1997), The Will Be Blood (2007), Phantom Thread (2017), it is hard to find any stylistic or other correlation, beside the fact that they were all Oscar nominated.

“He’s the greatest screen actor of his generation, but also a reluctant celebrity,” wrote Bret Easton Ellis about Phoenix for the New York Times in a article titled “The Weird Brilliance of Joaquin Phoenix.” This is one of the rare interviews that seems to have truly captured Joaquin Phoenix’s personality. The actor reveals the fragile soul of the characters he embodies; poor guys, thugs, cops. He gives them all a tragic grace and a melancholic side. But what he is, above all, is fair. He plays fair, he is in tune with his characters; he’s not doing too much, or to the contrary, too little; he is simply fair. But then we encounter a second dimension of Phoenix: the madness. We leave the fairness for the incredibly twisted, the tense. The scene of the prison in The Master where he smashed the toilets, and when he ends up tearing the sink off the wall in Walk The Line, neither was scripted, it was all Phoenix.

The authenticity of his performances is probably enhanced by the fact that the actor stays very private about his personal life, and maintains his mystery. We wonder who is really Joaquin Phoenix, which leaves more room for his characters. He is famously known for being hard to interview, constantly lying, making things up when he is not interested, and clearly demonstrating that he would rather be anywhere else than there doing a promotional appearance. His reluctance for celebrity and his attitude, the way he plays with media, could well be perceived as arrogance; he is in fact the contrary. Phoenix, during the rare times when he opened up, revealed himself as more of an insecure artist. He is, for example, unable to watch his own performances because he is too self-aware. He is the anti-hero of Hollywood.

Inherent Vice is a drug infused, LA neo-noir, mystery film taking place in 1970 and adapted from the novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon. Pynchon is considered an “LA writer” and Anderson did succeed in reflecting LA’s early seventies atmosphere. It is the kind of movie you either really like or really don’t due to its format. In an effort to preserve the nature of the book while translating it to the screen, Joanna Newsom is narrating all along the movie as Sortilège. The beginning of the movie is indeed word-for-word straight from the book, and then some details get lost in the way – but we all know how hazardous a task adapting books into film can be.

Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a private investigator who lives in a fictional California coastal town, Gordita Beach (which bears a striking resemblance with Manhattan Beach, where Pynchon lived in the late sixties). Doc is the kind of loser-stoner we’ve already seen and liked in The Big Lebowski. The story begins when Doc is being involved, against his will, in a series of mysterious disappearances. And, Inherent Vice is a world where “disappear” means either possibly dead, or hiding somewhere. The movie revolves around this plot; Doc in what seems like a permanent state of confusion and paranoia tries to solve a conspiracy involving local real estate baron Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), surf-rock saxophonist Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson) and ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston).

Inherent Vice, as much in the movie as in the book, is a “classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there” (this sentence is written on the back cover of the book). The movie explores LA’s late sixties and its hippie “groovy” culture, the surging drugs consumption, Californian beaches and surf-rock bands, Topanga Canyon, cult and post-Manson era but also politics, Nixon, the Vietnam War, and the early stages of LA’s gentrification history (Wolfmann bulldozered a whole black neighborhood in South LA to build his Channel View Estates). It also features the eternal war between cops (Lieutenant Detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, played by Josh Brolin) and hippies (“Doc” Sportello), counterculture and capitalism.

Doc shares his confusion with us; we start losing track of what’s happening when something named the Golden Fang might as well be referring to: a boat, a rehab center, an Indochinese heroin cartel or a syndicate of dentists. The film runs out of steam midway, and the two and a half hours feel longer than they should. Inherent Vice might be quite dysfunctional sometimes, but the acting is great, the cinematography so neat and eye-pleasing that every shot is worth saving, and the late sixties atmosphere so well depicted you’ll want to watch it twice. Maybe a second viewing is necessary to fully comprehend the movie – and it is quite possible that Inherent Vice only makes total sense after a lighting up a joint.

“Princess Cyd”: Girls On Film

How Princess Cyd succeeded in reflecting today’s society, gender fluidity and representing the new generation of movies by portraying empowered, independent and sexually liberated female characters.

Written for a UCLA class.

Writer/Director Stephen Cone has accomplished a movie free of clichés about women, and has instead given them back their true colors. Princess Cyd is the portrait of two very different women, from different generations and with diverse interests, who end up learning from each other, growing together. The movie depicts what is often missed by others; strong female characters. It is remarkable how it is accurate in its depiction of modern women, not only the ones that exist in movies but the ones you meet in your everyday life, that’s how authentic the characters appear on screen.

Princess Cyd now hits Netflix after being critically acclaimed at film festivals. Cone previously directed and wrote The Wise Kids (2011) and Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (2015) which both received a generally positive response from film critics. It follows the lead of a new generation of movies, tinted by, at last, the appearance of LGBTQ characters and minorities in leading roles. Box office giants like Black Panther and Wonder Woman are the confirmation that those who were previously left out on the screen, limited to background characters or clichés portrayals, now also get to enjoy the central place on the poster. While Black Panther hopefully opens the door to more black-led movies, Wonder Woman is the first LGBTQ superhero icon.

Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) is a teenage girl who lost her mother at a young age, and lives alone with her father in South Carolina. As father-daughter relationships are complicated, they both thought it would be for the best if Cyd was spending her summer at her aunt’s in Chicago. The move-in is a bit laborious; Miranda Ruth (Rebecca Spence) is a successful writer and Cyd doesn’t “really read books.” Eventually they both learn to appreciate each other’s personal traits and learn from each other. Miranda gives Cyd a taste for reading and Cyd reminds her of and letting go and enjoying life’s simple pleasure, like lying in the sun.

In Chicago, Cyd meets Katie a local barista who will eventually become more than a friend. Cyd finds a mentor in Miranda as she goes through her journey of self-discovery, and begins to question her sexuality. In the meantime, her aunt is having her own struggles, managing her love life along with her professional life. Her personal quest for joy, it turns out, resides in literature, friendship and…cake.

Setting up unachievable standards for women is an issue in cinema that can prevent viewers from relating to characters. People, as we see them in movies – and especially women – are not real. They are characters, products of fiction. A movie character, as we are so often used to, is flawless, too good looking to be real, always wake up with perfectly neat hair, never sweats or turns red when going for a run, or even has pores.

But what strikes us in Princess Cyd is the authenticity and the accuracy in the women’s portrayal. We finally see real people on screen. And yes, they sweat when they run. Nor are the characters extraterrestrial beauties; they look like everyone who crosses your path everyday. Miranda could very well be an aunt living next door and Cyd just a teenage girl. This is what we need: an healthy and accurate representation of women in films. We need portrays and stories of strong women, queer women, tomboys, girly women, scientists, athletes, nurses, we need them all. We need a more fair, diverse, closer to reality, representation of women. It’s time for movies to reflect the reality of today. Gender roles are being totally exploded and gender fluidity is far from uncommon. It is important that movies give a voice, a story to everyone.

Cone did well in his portrayal of modern women. Female characters are often forsaken, caricatured, lost in the shadow of the leading man or serving the sole purpose of being the love interest of the hero, or his mother. Women are that, but they are also so much more; there is so much ground left to cover in movies. In Princess Cyd, women have complex personalities of their own and a male character is not needed to get the plot started.

Princess Cyd plays with the conventional notions of gender roles and the preconceived ideas we have of people. Cyd likes girls and boys, she plays soccer, wears a tuxedo. Miranda has not been in a single relationship in 5 years but that doesn’t prevent her from experiencing joys on her own. Katie is hard to identify either as a girl or a boy at first look and knows a lot about books whereas Cyd thought she “doesn’t really seem like a reader.” to which Katie answers “what a reader even looks like?” This rings true with the message that the movie conveys. We are not binary people, girls play soccer, some others prefer the company of a book more than the one of a man, some people fall in love with others regardless of their genders. “We are different shapes and ways and our happiness is unique.” says Miranda. This is a story about growing up, feminine solidarity and finding your own joy.