The Master) had his work cut out for him. Pre-buzz about Inherent Vice pointed to the un-adaptability of Thomas Pynchon's eponymous novel, upon which this is based and which I haven't read. The resulting film, for which Anderson wrote the adapted screenplay, covers what seem like multiple tangents, like Anderson was trying to rein in a sprawling, unstructured novel.
The driving action (all set in California in 1970) focuses on stoner PI Doc Sportello (a full-gonzo Joaquin Phoenix, who previously worked with Anderson on The Master). His ex-girlfriend, Shasta (the ethereal muse Katherine Waterston, who's wowed me on stage in Kindness and Bachelorette), is now seeing Mickey Wolfman (Eric Roberts). Shasta asks Doc to investigate the machinations of Wolfman's wife and Wolfman's wife's boyfriend. (Does this sound a little confusing? It kind of is, but pay attention and you'll follow along.) Doc takes on the case, and some others, and the intersection of them all leads to resolution. Along the way, Doc has "contacts" with various characters, like police detective "Bigfoot" (Josh Brolin), Doc's lawyer, Sauncho (an unhinged Benicio Del Toro) and Doc's sometimes girlfriend and deputy DA, Penny (Reese Witherspoon, now in Wild, and who co-starred with Phoenix in Walk the Line, for which she won an Oscar).
For me, the best part of this flick (which I saw on 35mm, not digital, adding an appropriate grittiness) is the ensemble Anderson assembled. Of course Anderson's wife, the hilarious and underrated Maya Rudolph, shows up, as do Michael K. Williams; Veep's Timothy Simons; Parenthood's Sam Jaeger; Owen Wilson; Jena Malone; Martin Short; and even Tony Award winner Jefferson Mays (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder), among others, who all presumably received a call asking if they'd like to be in a PTA film and said yes.
Inherent Vice is off-beat and constantly threatens to self-implode, which is part of the fun.