There's a lot to love about this movie. It was kind of losing me until Doc arrives at the Golden Fang, but the second half is dramatically better. It's like Martin Short kicks that transmission into the right gear. The movie suddenly begins to effectively channel that alternate-world pseudo-apocalyptic energy that we felt in TWBB when milkshakes were being drunk. That's also when Jonny Greenwood's music starts working especially well. It really reminded me of his Bodysong score. (Listen to "Iron Swallow" and tell me that wasn't in the movie somewhere.)
The framing with heads being cut off actually worked quite well for me. It was a funny and effective way to introduce characters, at least twice that I remember. But I agree with putneyswipe that in general the framing seemed uninspired or intentionally plain, to the extent that I really noticed a beautifully framed scene when it arrived.
I was also deeply feeling the claustrophobia. The movie seems to take place mostly in series of rooms. When we do follow Doc outside, the few wide shots usually involve him being dwarfed by a large ominous building. Even the establishing shot outside his beach house is claustrophobic. (And I love that idea.) The camera is low to the ground uncomfortably between two buildings, and car bumpers even crowd out the shot later in the movie.
The final scene with Bigfoot was funny and wonderfully bizarre, and Doc's reaction is my favorite acting that JP does in the movie. But in retrospect I'm not sure the scene was entirely earned... the insanity or the emotional resolution. This scene was clearly meant to be more resonant than it actually is. And the way it dissolves into the next scene after the punchline kind of makes it feel a little cheap.
Likewise... I'm fascinated by some interpretations of the film, but I'm not convinced the movie itself engages those issues with much cogency. It's more like, yeah, I guess that's in there.
I feel like the way to appreciate this movie going forward is through its formal curiosities and its multitude of quirky delights. What I'm not feeling is a beating heart at the center, or a story that is screaming to be heard, or any character with a particularly rich inner life.
This just doesn't have the soul that I assume a PTA movie will have. Even The Master, probably PTA's coldest movie at that point, had full, intense characters with explosive depth, almost effortlessly. Inherent Vice just doesn't have any of that. Doc is certainly a sweet and somewhat angelic character, but let's be honest here, he has two or three distinguishing characteristics. Whatever depth might be there just isn't coming through the haze. I'm wondering if people are bringing information to this character from the book, because, while it's always fascinating to watch Joaquin Phoenix, I'm not quite feeling it.
I do think it's a good movie. Some scenes are amazing. I can sincerely accept this as a light diversion and move on with no complaints. Maybe it's like what he first intended with PDL, actually happening 12 years later.