The answer may not shock you. They’re hilarious subversions of the typical noir set-up. Yes, you will be consistently surprised by each new revelation, and made more curious about what will happen next, but you will also be allowed to see colors from the ’70s.
Inherent Vice, originally an incredible novel by Thomas Pynchon (recognizable for works such as Gravity’s Rainbow and Mason & Dixon), does not step too far off the page. The adventure of Doc Sportello, a pot-head PI, through the twisting and turning mystery (which was introduced to him by his ex-girlfriend) is one I will never forget. It has inspired much of my creative writing pieces of late. Perhaps, in the very distant future, a novel with my name on the cover will hold my own take on the noir-subversion ’70s adventure. This movie (and novel), in its very dry and raw telling of its events, may sneak information right past you as you watch. This is possibly my favorite method of storytelling, as it means you need to be present for the story. You need to actively watch, and you will be rewarded with excellent comedy. Comedy of the more tragic kind. It is real, with those lovely hints of magical realism peppered throughout the story. Also, the most redeeming aspects would include Joaquin Phoenix as Doc Sportello and Josh Brolin as BigFoot (Doc’s unlikely partner, a straight, meathead cop). A favorite scene of mine involves Bigfoot kicking down Doc’s door and literally eating all of his weed (Joaquin decided to start crying at this point, one of the few parts not in the novel. I would say he made the right choice on that one).
The Nice Guys, a more obvious kind of humor is present throughout. The colors are vastly more vibrant, and the twists and turns are easier to follow than in Inherent Vice. The unlikely pairing of a PI, named March, and a “tough enforcer”, named Healy, is probably the best aspect of the film. March, played by Ryan Gosling, is something of a hapless twit who-in a lot of ways-relies heavily on the help of the “hired muscle”, Healy, played by Russell Crowe. Their investigation begins and ends with the same older woman looking for her granddaughter, whom the audience and all other cast members know is dead. She believes she saw her, though, and the strange mystery becomes stranger as revelations are made about the people involved, the qualities of their involvement, and the intentions of the powers that be in the society of ’70s California. My favorite scene from The Nice Guys is, hands all the way down, the short part involving March attempting to break into a building after hours in order to access information they would not allow him to legitimately ascertain. He wraps a towel around his arm, punches through the window, and has to be rushed to the ER before he bleeds out.
I love these films because I love the concept of giving an audience a very intriguing and satisfying noir while also making them laugh. There is already so much real-life mystery and tragedy, that it just doesn’t seem fair not to evolve the noir genre at least a little. The people want the brutality and the fierceness of the mission to be prominent, but they also want there to be aspects of humanity and relatably laughable characters. I am also just a sucker for the look and feel of the ’70s.