Is Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Inherent Vice’ Just a “Stoner Movie”?

By  · Published on October 6th, 2014

Warner Bros.

Over the weekend, the New York Film Festival took on a distinctly pungent scent, thanks to the world premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, a star-studded adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name. Featuring Joaquin Phoenix as a weed-friendly detective – fine, he’s a stoner – the film is already garnering lots of attention for its shaggy vibe, its massive cast and a free-floating narrative that will likely appeal to both the Anderson faithful and viewers who approach the material with the edge taken off (if you know what we mean).

But is that the key to unlocking the film’s charms? Over at Awards Daily, Sasha Stone caught on to the trend early, writing about the first round of tweets regarding the feature, issued immediately following its NYFF press screening on Saturday morning, mentioned its “stoner noir” vibe more than, well, just about anything else. But is Inherent Vice just a “stoner” movie – or, perhaps more appropriately, a movie that can most easily be classified as a “stoner” film above anything else? Let’s take it to the critics.

Our own Sean Hutchinson: “One of the best filmmakers in the world runs wild with a stacked cast and zany source material to create a neo-noir destined to cause future generations of stoners to quietly exhale and mumble to themselves, ‘What IS this, man?’”

Alison Willmore, BuzzFeed: “It’s a stoner noir you’ll want to watch again as soon as the credits roll – though maybe with a break for some munchies first.”

Mike Ryan, ScreenCrush: “Though, even though the lack of focus in Inherent Vice is by design, people expecting this to mimic the beats of Boogie Nights will most likely leave disappointed. But, to be fair, after a movie like The Master – which was ALL focus – it makes sense that Anderson would want to make his own stoner ‘comedy.’”

Kristy Puchko, Cinema Blend: “Strange but true: One of the most anticipated films at this year’s New York Film Festival is a stoner comedy. But not just any stoner comedy. This one is rolled to the point of bursting with pre-screening prestige.”

Alex Suskind, The Daily Beast: “There Will Be Spliffs: Inherent Vice Is a Bizarro Stoner Noir”

Time, Richard Corliss: “Joaquin Phoenix is the stoner detective in this shaggily faithful adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel set in 1970 L.A.”

Michael Calia, The Wall Street Journal: “That’s the easiest, most direct way to describe the power behind Inherent Vice, the much-anticipated stoner noir film that had its world premiere Saturday night as the centerpiece of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center.”

Chris Rosen, The Huffington Post: “Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon, and marking the first-ever screen adaptation of the author’s work, Anderson’s latest is a shaggy dog detective story that pushes stoner cinema to its limit; the smoke budget on this one might have reached six figures.”

Matt Patches, IGN: “Reluctant yet smitten, the stoner gumshoe dives into the case with joint in hand. Roaming town for leads he finds a tangled web of allies, backstabbers, and a devious cartel known as Golden Fang, whose purpose remains relentlessly ambiguous.”

Ed Douglas, ComingSoon: Gruelingly dull and almost as incoherent as Joaquin Phoenix’s stoner character, Inherent Vice is P.T. Anderson’s most uninspired work to date and mostly a worthless waste of time.”

Jason Bailey, Flavorwire: “Yet Doc’s druggy haze is most keenly felt in the film’s particular style, from the mellow color to the shaggy, relaxed vibe to the rambling narrative, which ends up resembling a lengthy story told by a particularly chatty stoner – to the extent that we can’t help but wonder how much of this is just in his head.”

Scott Foundas, Variety: “Freely but faithfully adapted by Anderson from Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 detective novel – the first of the legendary author’s works to reach the screen – Anderson’s seventh feature film is a groovy, richly funny stoner romp that has less in common with The Big Lebowski than with the strain of fatalistic, ’70s-era California noirs (Chinatown, The Long Goodbye, Night Moves) in which the question of ‘whodunit?’ inevitably leads to an existential vanishing point.”

Roger Friedman, Showbiz411: “Her, for all its futuristic bent, was really a traditional love story at heart. Vice takes a far more circuitous route. But I admire them for trying. If nothing else, Inherent Vice will be a cult film for stoners.”

Xan Brooks, The Guardian: “Everybody here appears to have mislaid the plot. Paul Thomas Anderson’s gloriously rambunctious Inherent Vice follows the fortunes of a stoner investigator who finds himself hopelessly lost in a case he can’t solve. Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is interviewing witnesses in a frenzy and scribbling ‘Paranoia Alert’ in his detective’s notepad. It’s clear from the outset that he’s going nowhere fast.”

Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist: “The Anderson of Boogie Nights appears to have vanished, but he hasn’t died as much as matured and evolved. And his boldly singular voice is alive and well in Inherent Vice, a hilarious, but melancholy and intuitive stoner noir that leaves much to contemplate.”

Lou Lumenick, The New York Post: “Paul Thomas Anderson’s sporadically funny stoner noir Inherent Vice is so unconcerned with coherence that it makes Howard Hawks’ legendarily confusing The Big Sleep look like a model of narrative clarity. Even Robert Altman’s Raymond Chandler adaptation, The Long Goodbye, is probably earlier to follow.”

Paranoia Alert? Appropriately high. Is Inherent Vice the stoner noir you’ve been waiting for? Perhaps not, but it sure sounds like it’s got enough stuff to leave you smoking.