by Laura Kyle
I am reluctant to summarize MAGNOLIA'S plot, because I feel it is secondary to what the movie is really about – people. It doesn’t matter what happens, it matters how the characters are affected by what happens. This should be a relief to a moviegoer, because a whole lot happens (it’s movies like these that are a rewarding pain in the ass for reviewers). Director/writer PT Anderson tells us several stories, and they each get an equal turn for the most part – I wouldn’t be surprised if the editors got a bit dizzy switching back and forth between them. I certainly did.So instead of ironing out all the plot specifics, which really provide symbolic functions that I’d prefer not to dissect, as well as a means for the characters to simply “be”, I’ll just hammer out the characters.
"Hey, after all that's been said and done, it might as well rain frogs."
Headlining the powerhouse of actors that Anderson gets to toy with is Tom Cruise, who gives one of the most impressive performances of his career, playing a motivational speaker with all the trademarks of a Dr. Phil or evangelical preacher; with the minor exception that he moralizes sexual domination of women, “respect the cock… and tame the cunt,” to be exact (he isn’t too subtle about it). Julianne Moore is the slightly neurotic wife of a much older, dying Jason Robards, whose caretaker is Philip Seymour Hoffman. William H Macy is another head case, struggling to cope with the aftermath of being exploited through his “quiz kid” celebrity persona from youth, and he parallels a boy (Jeremy Blackman) who is also in the thick of childhood celebrity and knows it all too well.
Hold your horses, it’s not over yet. Philip Baker Hall is a game show host and new cancer victim, and like Robards, has a tainted past staring him straight in the eyes, demanding attention as death nears. And Melora Walters is a desperate coke addict who develops an unusual, hesitant romance with the do-gooder lonely cop John C. Reilly.
And by the way, all these characters are connected. Good luck.
For every depressing issue and screwed up individual in Magnolia, the word “fuck” is spoken around three times, yes – it’s one of those movies. But, you see, with Hollywood pedigree like this, Freddie Prince Jr. could direct, or heck – even write, this movie, and it could still work. So essentially, you’re dealing with something pretty close to a masterpiece if you have a crazy genius like Anderson brewing up the intricate script and then telling the actors what to do with it.
Anderson had a cult following going into this film, and he doesn’t disappoint; Magnolia is an overwhelmingly ambitious effort on his part.
He is daring enough to show us long, drawn out character emotion, often not even filming what the characters are reacting to – whether it’s another character speaking or some event. He has that much faith in his actors (they’re more interested in their characters than awards), and that much faith in his message. He trusts his audience to sit through what could be a grueling, sometimes confusing three hours, so it luckily ends up being an experience that will stick with them.
Yeah, I kind of scratched my head at some scenes and found myself to be more of an observer than a participant, but I truly was caught up in Anderson’s rhythmic, though disciplined pace, and bracing style. And I appreciate how much he demanded from me.
A magnolia is a flower. I don’t believe there are any direct references to it in the movie, at least not any that are obvious, but magnolias are pretty to look at. Perhaps what Anderson is trying to say, is that despite all the randomly terrible things that happen in life, there’s equally random splendor.
And like Life, the film may be difficult to keep up with at times, and even harder to predict or catch onto where it’s going, but when you look back on it all, stuff starts to come together.Regret. Forgiveness. Loneliness. Love. Hopelessness. Frogs. It’s all there. Research the allusions, examine the telling names and numbers strategically sprinkled throughout – if you want, I’m sure Anderson would like that very much… but none of that investigative work is necessary to “get” what is communicated in MAGNOLIA, it just reinforces it, and that’s ultimately why I think the film is so great.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1727&reviewer=369
originally posted: 12/09/04 09:05:59