Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Julianne Moore, Philip Baker Hall, Alfred Molina, Felicity Huffman, Luis Guzman, Jeremy Blackman, Ricky Jay, April Grace, Melinda Dillon, Michael Bowen, Cleo King
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Paul Thomas Anderson
Things fall down. People look up. And when it rains, it pours.
After much inner turmoil and debate, Magnolia has come to rest currently in my Top 10 of all-time. It is a film that I have always respected, always enjoyed and always embraced...yet, over time it has become a film that I have also come to deeply and passionately love for its boldness, originality, statements and unique vision.
It is, without a doubt, a film that will NOT be embraced by all. Director PT Anderson seems to attract detractors quite easily with an approach that is deemed by some to be too long-winded, too quirky and more based in novelty than originality. While I understand these opinions and feelings and thoughts, five years after this film was made it continues to invade my memories...I find myself quoting it and feeling its characters and its storylines and its relationships. Magnolia is a film that, when I first viewed it, made me laugh and made me cry and made me sit there and wonder "What the fuck is that all about?"
Magnolia interweaves approximately 10 stories, each with brilliant dialogue penned by Anderson and each brought to life with precise and hypnotic character development by the actors and actresses in this cinematic kaleidoscope.
We have Jeremy Blackman as Stanley Spector, a boy genius, and Phillip Baker Hall as Jimmy Gator, a game show host with a screwed up life and two months to live. We have Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), the long-time Quiz Show recordholder, and his shady, manipulative employer (Alfred Molina). We have, in largely separate yet intertwined scenes, Gator's coked up daughter (Melora Walters), her mother (Melinda Dillon) and the cop who falls for Walters (John C. Reilly).
We have Jason Robards as Earl Partridge, with his wife (Julianne Moore), nurse (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and his estranged son, TJ Mackey (Tom Cruise).
All of these characters develop separate yet intertwined storylines that explode and intrigue and evoke strong reactions. Trying to explain with any logical sequence the film Magnolia is pointless. If anything, Anderson's point (among many) may be that there is no logical sequence. Life just sort of happens, yet it doesn't change the fact that we are still all inter-connected. Rain is going to fall (or frogs), shit is going to happen but we are all still inter-twined in this world and the shit that we do to others is, in fact, the shit that we do to ourselves.
Every performance here shines, but truly stand-out performances include Melora Walters as the younger Gators, a coked-up, burned out young lady who engages in casual sex and self-destruction. Her scenes with Reilly, as a cop who falls for her, are poignant, powerful and authentic. Yet, the performances that surround her are equally as compelling. Hall's performance as Jimmy Gator is a brilliant performance that balances sadness and guilt and resignation and determination. Likewise, in one of the 90's best youth performances, Jeremy Blackman is magnificent in the role of a child prodigy who is still, in fact, a child. His closing scenes evoked from me miles and miles of sadness and anger and many tears. It is particularly powerful today as I read in the newspaper of a 14-year-old child prodigy who committed suicide...it resonates deeply and sadly.
Likewise, the scenes with the Mackey family are scenes of great power and intensity. Two-time Oscar winner Robards gives a tremendous performance as Earl Partridge, yet he is surrounded with an amazingly tender and touching performance by Hoffman as his nurse. Hoffman, long my favorite actor, is simply brilliant here (as in nearly every Anderson flick) in the role of a dutiful yet compassionate, loyal and dedicated professional. The chemistry between the two is magnificent, and Hoffman makes the most of what could have been a simple, throwaway role.
Tom Cruise's Oscar nominated performance as Frank "TJ" Mackey, the host of "Seduce and Destroy" is, in my opinion, the finest performance of his career. It is a stylish, intense, emotional and captivating performance that allows Cruise to balance tremendous sexual presence, captivating power and yet a stunning vulnerability. It is, perhaps, Cruise's lines that most stay with you after the film. Who can forget "I am quietly judging you" as Cruise looks intensely at a female journalist who is interviewing him? Yes, I will confess that I have used that infamous line "Respect the cock" in at least one situation...come on, admit it...it's a great line!
Magnolia, according to PT Anderson, actually centers around the music and lyrics of Aimee Mann. The film's score and soundtrack is one of brilliance and there are few films that so perfectly fit with its music. The haunting "Save Me" is playing in my head right now as I write this line...now that's an effective soundtrack.
Magnolia, after five years, has become my #1 film. It is not because it is a film I watch all the time...in fact, I would consider it a film that is perfect even in its imperfection. Imperfection is, in fact, part of the point. We are all deeply flawed, tragic characters irrevocably intertwined and struggling to make sense of it all and find hope within the hopelessness.
There is no film...EVER...that has made me think and made me feel and made me question like Magnolia. It made me laugh and cry and squirm and giggle with nervous laughter. Yet, I can't deny that five years later my life is changed because I've seen Magnolia. I sit here at my computer getting goosebumps at the tenderness of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the raging vulnerability of Tom Cruise, the fucked up beauty of Melora Walters and the sizzling desperation of Phillip Baker Hall. Five years later, I want to know these characters...I care about where they are now and their thoughts and feelings and life experiences. Magnolia is, quite simply, a masterpiece.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic