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Inherent Vice

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Inherent Vice Movie Poster Image
Frustrating but fascinating drama has drugs, sex, language.
  • R
  • 2014
  • 148 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Amid all the edgy content is the idea that no matter what you find yourself up against, it's best to stay true to yourself and listen to yourself.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Doc is a tender-hearted guy, even if he does get involved in the seamiest of situations in his job as a private detective.


A cop kicks another man and slams him with his body. A gunfight results in death. A dead man is shown on the ground, with wounds on his neck. A feeling of menace permeates some scenes.


Full-frontal female nudity. A couple has sex (the man's genitals aren't visible, but it's clear what he's doing). A character is shown stopping in at a brothel with a "menu" that clearly explains what the girls are up for; two prostitutes are happy to show him what's available. Lots of scantily clad men and women at a pool party.


Frequent strong language includes "f--ker," "p---y," "s--t," and "ass."


Labels/products seen or mentioned include Coke, Dodge, Merceded, and Johnny Walker.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Loads of drinking in social situations and at home. Steady stream of marijuana smoking. Characters also snort cocaine. Some pill-popping; people take acid. Talk of heroin use. People get very high.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Paul Thomas Anderson's edgy, 1970s-set adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel is an irreverent, loopy, mind-bending movie unlike any other; it's part potboiler, part detective thriller, part stoner comedy, part head trip. Expect plenty of scenes showing characters getting very high (mostly on weed, but also cocaine), plus gun fights and shots showing corpses on the ground, sex with prostitutes, and a lingering scene in which a woman is shown fully naked, about to have sex. There's also lots of strong language, everything from "s--t" to "f--k."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12 and 14 year old Written bybrightstar January 18, 2015

Weird disturbing sex (hetero and homo), LOTS of drug use

The review that CSM posted for Inherent Vice was not strong enough. It said there was a nude woman ready for sex, which I think my kids could handle, but what i... Continue reading
Adult Written bykipwalker44 May 9, 2015
Teen, 16 years old Written byAsh Williams January 27, 2015

Great Movie

A very well made movie with great characters, amazing plot and setting. The plot isn't as complicated as many people say it is and is in fact very easy to... Continue reading

What's the story?

Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is adrift on one of his peculiarly specific reveries in this movie based on Thomas Pynchon's novel when in walks ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston). She's all dressed up with seemingly nowhere to go but Doc's home; seems she's worried that her new beau, a married real estate developer (Eric Roberts), is about to be kidnapped by his wife and her boyfriend. Shasta's scared of more, too; she can't quite explain it, but her palpable anxiety is enough to convince Doc to help. Soon, Shasta disappears, and Doc sets out to find her. His investigation quickly takes him all over 1970s Los Angeles, where he becomes enmeshed in the dramas of a wide range of characters, including neo-Nazis, a musician (Owen Wilson) who's gone undercover, and a dentist (Martin Short) with a yearning for blow and very young women.

Is it any good?

Forget trying to understand INHERENT VICE; it won't work. (And if you manage it, please explain it to us.) It's a sticky toffee of a movie, packed with so many plots -- none of which entirely make sense -- that it gums up in the end. You won't know what exactly happened, and this will frustrate you to no end, not to mention mitigate your enjoyment. Consider yourself forewarned.

That said, director/auteur Paul Thomas Anderson paints a delightfully groovy vibe that smacks neither of cliche nor shortcuts. Say what you will about the movie, but Anderson clearly made it with intricate care, applying every layer with the laser focus of a master. Few directors can compare with how he builds atmosphere, time, and place, especially of this kind of Los Angeles: sun-drenched, woozy, and destabilizing. Few actors can stand up to Anderson's characters, but Phoenix does. Almost everyone else is window dressing.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the role that drugs play in Inherent Vice. Does the movie make substance abuse look glamorous? Are there realistic consequences?

  • Are any of the characters role models? Are they intended to be? Do you find them sympathetic anyway? Why do you think that is?

  • Talk about how Anderson paints Los Angeles in the film: Is it its own character? How does the director make it so?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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