Paul Thomas Anderson is one of my absolute favourite directors. He makes films that demand to be seen more than once, films that carry outstanding performances, films that pin you in your seat and leave you astounded. And in this case, films that leave you feeling like you’ve been jiggled round in a tumble drier full of duvets for a couple of hours. When you’re released at the end of the cycle, you’re a bit dazed and woeful that all the lovely chaos has come to an end.
Anderson introduced the screening I was at – the chap next to me was so busy showing off to his date about all the films he’d seen at the PCC that he didn’t realise who it was and talked all the way through. But wow, PTA was there – and it was screened in glorious 35mm. Full geek-out, man.
Pynchon’s novels are not entirely the easiest to follow, even when you can go back and reread the parts where your brain has had a hiccup. And I think Inherent Vice is the first to be turned into a film – so a brave choice for Anderson. But it’s a wholly successful film and one that so perfectly recreates that early 70s LA vibe that you can’t help but let yourself be swept along with it.
My enduring lust for Joaquin Phoenix is enough to overlook the hairy grubbiness of Doc Sportello, the stoner private dick at the centre of the action who has possibly the best mutton chops in movie history. Doc is getting by on half-assed cases that he runs from the local surgery. It’s enough to pay for his dope, so it’s enough. When his ex (Katherine Waterson) appears like a glorious hallucination with a request to track down her missing lover (Eric Roberts), he can’t say no. Nor can he overlook a second case also involving a missing man, this one a hippie saxophone player called Wolfmann (Owen Wilson). The meandering connections between both bring him to the attention of square-headed detective Bigfoot Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) who is pretty much the polar opposite of Doc in every way. The two sidestep around a chaotic universe of mysterious dentists, moth-eaten brothels and nazi bikers, and landscapes filled with people who have long forgotten what they were looking for.
Sometimes not having the faintest idea what’s going on in a film can be a hindrance. Here, it gives you the freedom to just sit back and go on the ride with Doc, letting that fug of weed surround you like a comforter. With a glorious soundtrack, an immaculate cast (Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short and yay, Martin Donovan are all having fun here too – though I’ll never see a PTA movie again and not wonder where Philip Seymour Hoffman might have fitted) and in Phoenix, a lead that you can’t help but like, this is a film that really warms the cockles. Funny, moving and deliriously bonkers, you’ll want to sit through it again immediately. If only to work out what was going on.
God love PTA, he might not make that many films, but the ones he does make are worth ten of most of the yawnsome stuff out there. In Inherent Vice, everyone is having fun, even if they don’t know it. Don’t expect to understand it, do expect to love it.
I’d not long seen Robert Weide’s masterful Woody Allen documentary when I saw this, it’s a wonderful film and I would urge anyone tempted to see To Rome With Love to divert course accordingly. Weide’s film reminds you what a consummate film maker and comedian Allen is, and takes you on a journey through his best work. He does touch on the tailing off of Allen’s talents in recent years, but then we had the sublime Midnight in Paris which left a bit of hope that he might after all have something left in the pot. He made Owen ‘Penis Nose’ Wilson likeable for goodness’ sake. So there’s always a bit of hope when a new one comes along that it might be a hit rather than the all too frequent misses. Not this time, sadly.
The drive to be constantly working seems to have drained much of Woody Allen’s ability to see beyond cliché. And To Rome is full of them. It’s the sort of portmanteau film where you expect Walter Matthau to pop up guffawing at some point and wink knowingly at the camera. Allen tells us four unconnected stories – one a comment on the vacuity of modern fame (no shit sherlock), one a joke about singing in the shower that would only have been mildly funny as a comedy sketch, another a kind of ‘and then my trousers fell off’ story about newlyweds and the fourth the tale of an unfaithful boyfriend which has the benefit of Alec Baldwin, but wastes this in turning him into some sort of irritating speaking conscience. Penelope Cruz us similarly wasted in the age-old tart with a heart role. And indie darling Greta Gerwig is most wasted of all in a role where she is required to do nothing except look a bit peeved.
It’s not the worst thing ever, and it filled a couple of hours on a wet afternoon. In fact the couple sitting behind me laughed loud and long throughout, which wasn’t irritating at all. But it’s so far from Woody at his best that you have to wonder whether Midnight was a fluke.