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.
As nicknames go, Mud isn’t a great one, but it fits Matthew McConaughey’s slightly soiled fugitive perfectly. He’s hiding out on an island on the Mississippi river, shacked up in an old boat that two 14-year-old boys had planned to make their own (which happens to be up a tree). To the boys, Mud is a character straight from a book – full of exaggerated stories, spouting myth and legend, who comes with a large element of danger plus a star-crossed lover. The boys are too swept away by his stories to see the slightly disappointing truth – that Mud is a man chased by a dark history and full of tall tales. His connection to another mysterious river-dweller (an also suitably grizzled looking Sam Shepard) only adds to his allure.
The two boys both have disrupted home lives. Ellis (Ida Sheridan) is caught between parents who are splitting up and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) lives with his slightly bonkers uncle (Michael Shannon, playing an uncharacteristically genial role). Both are struggling to understand what love is, and when Mud reveals his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) is on her way to meet up with him, Ellis in particular is so entranced with the romance of it all that he gets more involved with Mud’s shenanigans than he should.
Jeff Nichols’ third feature, following the excellent Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, Mud is made with obvious affection for the area and its people, and has great performances all round, particularly from McConaughey and Sheridan who are superb. With echoes of Stand By Me and Huck Finn, it’s a film that most of all shines with love.