Magnolia

Date:    January 21st, 1999

Cast:

Frank TJ Mackey - Tom Cruise
Alexander Dane - Julianne Moore
Jimmy Gator - Phillip Baker-Hall
Phil Parma - Phillip Seymour Hoffman
"Quiz Kid" Donnie Smith - William H. Macy
Jim Kurring - John C. Reilly
Claudia Wilson - Melora Walters
Earl Partridge - Jason Robards
Stanley Spector - Jeremy Blackman

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson


"The book says we may be through with our past, but our past is not through with us"

There are some things in this world that simply have to be seen, in order to be understood. There are those visions and experiences which defy the ability to be effectively described in words. Take, the first smile of a newborn child, or the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking on a winter morning. If you’ve experienced these events, you can understand that it is possible to use words to recreate them. However, to effectively capture the power and emotion of the situation, you have to see it, hear it, feel it, or be there. Paul Thomas Anderson’s third cinematic effort, Magnolia, is one of those kind of experiences. It defies simplistic definition and is also the kind of movie that will not appeal to most people. Some will see it as a multi-layered character study, showing the effects of the past on present events, and the present, on future events. However others, will see it as a rambling mish-mash of incoherent, crude, painful, vulgar visions of today’s society. This is not to criticize those who do not get this movie, some will, some will not, as in any entertainment venture, not everyone will enjoy it, but this one may create quite a division. I just happened to be one of those who, for the most part, "gets" Magnolia.

I don't think I could even begin to describe the plot without it becoming confusing, or ruining it. It would be akin to attempting to describe a Grand Canyon sunrise to a sight impaired person not wearing their glasses. It is possible, but again, needs to be seen, and experienced, to get the full effect. Basically, it revolves around 24 hours in the lives of several people in the San Fernando Valley. This is the same setting Anderson used in Boogie Nights, as did Robert Altman in Short Cuts. Something about Southern California society that seems to scream disorganized madness amongst the civil appearing exterior. Lives intersect, and come closer to a sunburned example of the Six Degrees of Seperation.  Magnolia is Short Cuts meets American Beauty, in its vision of all not being what it may seem. We see those who seem to be on top, have it all together etc. However, upon looking closer, unraveling the layers of their lives, and even intertwining them in curious, but effective ways, we see that all is not as it may seem. This is a very well written, patient, but persistent and ground-breaking movie. There are plot lines that seeming start, and go nowhere, and introduction that seems unconnected. Also there is one big lulu of a plot twist which won’t even begin to hint at, or describe. I will say, don’t even try to guess it, because you won’t, and if you do, you will be wrong. Also, it does make sense, in the grand scheme, and upon later reflection. So turn your brains on, if you don’t want to think, I’m sure there’s Pauly Shore/Adam Sandler/Van Damme movie playing somewhere for you.

Usually in ensemble casts, there is at least one weak link in the performances. It does not necessarily take away from the movie, but the absence of it, would’ve made the movie just a tad better. In Magnolia, for the first time that I can remember, there is not a weak link in this bunch. Not only that, but the Academy could have a field day here, in a year lacking in certain categories. The masterful performances are headed by the soul-bearing, image-breaking, pardon my French, "balls to the wall" performance by Tom Cruise. I was an early critic of Cruise’s for his pretty boy performances early on, but once he settled down, and realized he could act when he tried, he has impressed me. It began with Rainman, where I feel he would’ve won gold if not for being blown off the screen by Mr. Hoffman. His successes continued with Few Good Men, Jerry Maguire. Now, I can actually say that never has Mr. Cruise been more award worthy then he is here. He shows range, depth, egotism, vulnerability, and even a downright detestability which actually caused 8 people to leave my theater when he first came onscreen. That is powerful, and this isn’t your teenage get-of-the-baby-sitter Tom Cruise. He is not alone however in shining above and beyond previous works. Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, and the two Phillips Seymour Hoffman and Baker Hall, all of whom worked with Anderson before, each add their own powerful niches again. Even the newcomers hold their own. Melora Walters and Jeremy Blackman make memorable debuts and make you want to see more of them and their stories.

Ultimately, I think Magnolia is a wonderful, unique, groundbreaking piece of filmmaking. Anderson uses stunning visuals and music (including one of the year’s oddest musical yet memorable musical numbers) to create a film that could be put in a time capsule, and brought out in 1000 years, for those living through Y3K, to see what life was like. It is realistic, honest, never predictable, all aspects and allegories on life today. It is a very long movie, and I did begin to get impatient with it, but right at the point of impatience, is where I got zinged. In the end, I would not have wanted it a minute shorter, or longer. Granted Anderson seemingly cuts away when he gets you most interested, and while this may seem frustrating, it will keep you watching. There is a great scene in the Howard Stern movie Private Parts regarding Stern’s appeal.    Paraphrasing, the people who love it, keep listening because they want to see what is going to happen next. The people who hate it, keep listening, because they want to see what will happen next. This applies to Magnolia as well. If you have patience, even if its frustrated patience, you will be drawn to it, and want to keep watching, its well worth it.  In Galaxy Quest, I told you to turn your brains off and sit back to enjoy the experience. Here, its time to shift your brains into overdrive, if you can’t or choose not to, stay away from Magnolia, but you don’t know what you’re missing.

A unique movie such as this, deserves a unique rating. It’s overall appeal is limited, as it’s just not some peoples cup of tea. ($$). However, from a quality, intelligence and originality standpoint, it stands out above the majority of today’s films, ($$$1/2) Overall, that comes out to quite a bit above average, but not perfect. You may not like it, but I feel you have to at least appreciate it and give it a chance, before judging it. ($$$ out of $$$$)

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