Saturday, May 12, 2012

#635. Magnolia (1999)

Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, Julianne Moore

Tag line: "Things fall down. People look up. And when it rains, it pours"

Trivia:  Almost every location contains at least one picture or painting of a magnolia flower

In my opinion, Magnolia is director Paul Thomas Anderson’s finest film. Exploring emotional distress like few movies have before, Magnolia weaves a multi-layered tale of torment and betrayal while simultaneously exhibiting a style that can only be described as exhilarating.

At the heart of Magnolia is a long-running television quiz show titled “What Do Kids Know?”, which pits 3 brainy preteens against 3 equally intelligent adults. The current champions, a team of kids led by super-smart Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman), are close to breaking the all-time record for winnings. 

Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), who currently holds the record, is grown up now, and is having some difficulty dealing with his status as a forgotten child prodigy. 

The show’s longtime host, Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), recently discovered that he’s dying of cancer. Jimmy’s adult daughter, Claudia (Melora Walters), holds a grudge against her father, refusing to talk to him even after he informs her of his condition. 

Also on death's door is Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), a cantankerous old television producer whose estranged son, Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise, in what might be his best performance), works as a self-help guru for men, teaching them the ‘secrets’ of how to get any woman they desire into bed. 

Add to the mix Earl’s volatile wife (Julianne Moore), a kindhearted cop (John C. Reilly) and a well-meaning hospice nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and you have a motion picture bulging at the seams with fascinating characters.

It might all sound like your run-of-the-mill soap opera fare, but where Magnolia distinguishes itself is in the telling. First, Anderson kicks things off with a trio of bizarre, seemingly inexplicable tales (including one of the most unusual suicides ever), completely unrelated to the film's narrative, which are there to establish that strange things do, indeed, happen (something to remember when this movie's final scene plays out). 

As for the individual story lines that make up the bulk of Magnolia, each one builds upon the other, one gut-wrenching twist at a time, until all have reached an almost unbearable emotional plateau. 

Then, just when everyone seems to have hit rock bottom, director Anderson changes gears by throwing in a musical sequence, during which his characters take a turn singing a line from Aimee Mann’s beautiful ballad, Wise Up. This brief interlude is extremely effective at conveying each person's heartache, as if all their shattered feelings, all their sorrows, are contained within the lyrics of that song. No matter how many times I watch Magnolia, this scene never fails to move me.

Magnolia is a marvelous film, and I always look forward to the time I spend watching it. Intelligently written and expertly acted, Magnolia is an angst-ridden tour de force.


Anthony Lee Collins said...

I didn't exactly enjoy it (I'm not sure you're supposed to "enjoy" it), but I admired the hell out of it. It's that rarest of things from Hollywood, a really large-scale and extremely personal and heartfelt movie. I wrote about it on my blog a while back:

DVD Infatuation said...

Anthony: Thanks for stopping by!

MAGNOLIA is definitely a hard film to "enjoy", what with all its misery and drama, yet it's a film I also admire greatly.

Thanks for posting the link to your take on it! You make some excellent points.

Tommy Ross said...

Yep, agree with all of you. And even though I much prefer to pop in There Will Be Blood or Boogie Knights, I have to say I agree that Magnolia is his best just because of the scale and epic-ness of it.

Unknown said...

I liked it fine & watched it several times over the years. But my favourite PTA flick is Boogie Nights. Looking forward to seeing Inherent Vice.