Like a lot of people, I enjoy The Big Lebowski to an obnoxious degree. I’ve gone to Lebowski-themed parties, visited Lebowski-themed bars (Lebowski tourism!), and have been incorporating Lebowski-isms into my speech for so long that I barely know when I’m doing it anymore. Like I said, obnoxious. Lebowski is my Star Trek, that one Joss Whedon thing people love, and I’m protective of it. So when someone comes along trying to compare something else to The Big Lebowski, I understand the knee-jerk urge to tell him to f*ck off.
But hear me out here. I think Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2014 adaptation of Inherent Vice has Lebowski potential. By that I mean, the potential to rewatch, to delve, to obsess. The potential to dissect, sure, but mostly just the potential to enjoy on an ongoing basis. (Incidentally, it’s free on HBO Go right now)
What makes Inherent Vice Lebowski-eque, exactly? Obviously, there are the superficial similarities. Both movies involve a chilled out protagonist getting drawn into a hare-brained plot involving flamboyant pornographers, fascist cops, and a collection of mysterious, beautiful, and eccentric characters so obsessive they make the hero seem sane. Both are frequently, unfairly reduced to the descriptor “quirky.” Hell, both even have a narrator speaking from a strange remove who’s almost entirely extraneous to the plot.
In Lebowski‘s case, it’s Sam Elliott’s “The Stranger,” a philosophical cowboy The Dude runs into at a bowling alley. In Inherent Vice, it’s Sortilége, an earthy hippie chick played by Joanna Newsom who runs Doc Sportello’s local pizza joint and frequently annotates scenes via voiceover, from an astrological perspective. (Incidentally, both narrators were an attempt to riff on their literary sources — Vice a direct adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel, Lebowski a loose homage to Raymond Chandler.)