You could try to summarize the plot of Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice, but it's almost beside the point.
If you were to try, though: it is 1970 in Gordita Beach, a (fictional) town on the edges of Los Angeles. Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a broke stoner and private investigator whose ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) comes by to tell him a bunch of paranoid-sounding yarns about missing millionaires he has to check out. There are also Aryan Brotherhood bodyguards and Black Panthers, and there's Josh Brolin playing the straight-man cop Bigfoot Bjornsen and pretty women and a shadowy Chinese syndicate, maybe, called Golden Fang, or else they are just wealthy dentists.
Inherent Vice is sunshine noir that strongly evokes Robert Altman's 1973 The Long Goodbye, in which a hapless California detective isn't totally amazing at his job and seems to squint at the sun and get distracted a lot. This is unsurprising—Anderson has long cited Altman as one of his influences and was an additional director on Altman's last film, A Prairie Home Companion.
Just as The Long Goodbye is based on a 1953 Raymond Chandler novel, Anderson's film is based on a Thomas Pynchon novel published in 2009. And that's not where the similarities end.
(If a whiff of the term “postmodernism” makes you break out in hives, abandon ship now, because that's what we're about to talk about.)
Pynchon is one of the most well-known of the postmodern novelists, embodying some of the most prevalent features of the literary era: name-checking commercial brand names as a critique of capitalism; an emphasis on form over content; and, most importantly, a mining of the past for ...1