I have never read this book, but I have three of his other novels, and one thing I can say about Thomas Pynchon, is that his novels strike me as unfilmable. There’s so much going on and so much of it isn’t the kind of thing that would work on the screen. I like to imagine what a movie version of the novel I’m reading would look like. I have a hard time doing that with Pynchon.
So, with this in mind, and keeping in mind that I was watching this in the midst of a 15 hour flight, I was super impressed by Anderson’s ability to make a coherent film out of a Thomas Pynchon novel. There’s an actual plot! The plot doesn’t get totally diverted by weird digressions into arcana. I cannot speak to the film as an adaptation of the novel, but I can speak to it as a film, and it works as a film.
For one thing, it’s laugh out loud funny. It should be, as Pynchon is a very funny writer despite his reputation as being impenetrable. But it is, hands down, Anderson’s funniest film.
Phoenix seems perfectly cast. (Again, I say this without reading the novel.) He nails the drug-induced paranoia plus genuine desire to solve the cast. The rest of the cast is also good -particularly Brolin – and there are some fun cameos.
As many critics noted, there is a serious Long Goodbye vibe to this film – which was available on my flight, funnily enough – but that is not a problem for me as I loved that film when I saw it. Anyway the aesthetic is great, everything feels very California in the ’70s.
I watched a lot of ’70s American conspiracy thrillers when I was younger; I had a real thing for them. This is a welcome riff on those movies, with a lot more humour and a playful engagement with the genre’s conventions. (Something that self-serious genre really needs.)
Maybe it was the flight, but I loved this movie.