I can still remember when the much anticipated “Boogie Nights”
followup by director Paul Thomas Anderson
came out in 1999, the oddly mixed reaction it received by many. “Nights”
much fun, brash and bright and celebratory (and perhaps a little masturbatory, but who's complaining) whereas this new three-hour epic ensemble piece seemed to be rooted in misery. The nine separate storylines that eventually become tied together (however loosely) all seem to be rooted in feelings of regret, cruelty and an inability to forgive. There’s so much complexity taking place in these relationships, so many stones to overturn, so many secrets that Magnolia’s slow unfolding act is a necessity, an opera that sings (at one point literally) of the darkness in the everyday human soul. So, you can totally see why it wasn’t some folks cup of tea. Myself? I drink your misery tea. I drink it right up.
...See, cause Anderson
directed "There Will Be Blood"
Unlike “Boogie Nights”
it’s impossible for a simple synopsis to cover the core story in “Magnolia”
...it hasn’t got one. I find myself forced by the nature of the film to make a list of plot lines, a technique I hate but the nature of the film leaves me with no other recourse...
-A police officer (John C Reilly
) after a disturbance call that ended with him finding a corpse in a closet, answers a noise complaint call at the apartment of hard core coke-head Claudia
). His loneliness precludes any cop sense he might have as he falls hard for the very tweeked out lady. He's clearly not real bright to begin with.
-Frank T.J. Mackey
in an deservedly Oscar nominated role, believe it or not) is a self-help guru for the type of guys who think Maxim
is journalism, promoting his book and instruction course “Seduce and Destroy”
, but a female journalist has the inside scoop on his family that he’s been lying about for years. Of all the shady and douche characters that pop up in the film, he's the one to beat, the dickhead who Anderson
is gonna have to work overtime to make you feel for him by the end.
) is married to a much older man, Earl
), who is on his death bed. Guilt over her initial motivation for the marriage and subsequent infidelities has led her to excessive use of pharmaceuticals, like so many rich housewives before her. She's the most neurotic, freaked out chick ever, even more so than the perpetually vibrating Claudia
, and that's saying something. This is the kind of chick that if you're still attracted to after talking to her, you probably shouldn't be dating at all. Robards
role was especially sad as it was his last role and died shortly after filming was completed.
-The formerly famous child ‘quiz kid’ Donnie Smith
(William H Macy
) may be all physically grown up but he's just a kid inside, living a completely pathetic life, shackled by his past emotionally. He's guided by a misguided desire to get braces in order to impress the bo-hunk bartender at his local watering hole. Yeah, I don't know either.
) is the latest child prodigy on the game show “What Do Kids Know?”
whose spectacularly greedy father is almost entirely unconcerned with his well being other than him being victorious on the show. Oh, and he REALLY has to use the bathroom.
(Philip Seymour Hoffman
) is the nurse to Earl Partridge
who attempts to contact Earl's long-lost estranged son. Unfortunately, that son isn't an easy man to reach and wants absolutely nothing to do with Earl
. If that's not tough enough, Earl
's wife Linda
turns into even more of a screeching banshee at the mere mention of him.
(Philip Baker Hall
) is the host of “What do Kids Know”
and he’s dying of cancer but seeks a reconciliation with his daughter Claudia
before he goes, a meeting which she is violently opposed to and not just because she's coked to the gills. You see, ol' Jimmy
may or may not be harboring a secret that puts him at the top of the dick list of the ensemble.
Jeez, is that it? Well, a few other recognizable faces, like Alfred Molina
and Felicity Huffman
have small roles but I think I've covered all the primary arcs. A lesser film wouldn't be able to do justice to so many stories and so many characters but "Magnolia"
certainly isn't a lesser film. It's astonishing to watch how Anderson
weaves his tapestry, showing how all these lives intersect, sometimes in a grand fashion, like the very famous and climactic rain of frogs sequence, and sometimes in very subtle ways (see if you can spot the reason why the film is called "Magnolia"
; it's easy to miss).
It's an odd realization though that “Magnolia”
is only almost
a masterpiece. That’s a hard statement to qualify and “Magnolia”
is a hard film to interpret. It's one that requires much meditation upon before even beginning to try to come to some sort of simple declaration of its quality. There are so many themes and characters and subplots that it would take many viewings to dissect the marvelously complex yet comprehensible story. The film can be enjoyed as purely an excellent and heartrending dramatic exercise at face value but why would you choose to reduce its impact? Anderson
’s film wears it’s desire for the viewer to discuss possible interpretations of it on its sleeve; bookends to the film about the nature of coincidences and a narrated plea for the audience to think about them and the connection between all the characters insinuate this depth implicitly.
Some have criticized “Magnolia”
for its excessive running time and it does indeed seem to belabor the point at times more than it really needs to. There were times I wanted to smack the film’s characters across the face, urging them to wake out of their complacency, willingly mired in the ugly mud of the varying kinds of hatred they labored under. I was physically impatient for them to come to realizations about their respective situations, but the film lets their stories play out slowly, even while its urgent soundtrack seems to indicate that at all times, we’re on the verge of an explosion. As it is, I now have no fingernails. Perhaps I should start whittling during some of these types of movies. I think I’ll pick up some tools before I take on the director’s cut of “Solaris”
occasionally sidesteps reality into metaphorical flights of fancy, like the characters all singing to themselves an Aimee Mann
song near the end of the film, and it certainly is odd and a little jarring. Anderson
, no question, uses it to magnify the coincidences in the film as well as the unseen ties that bind all the stories together and taken in that context it’s a beautiful and touching crescendo but coming so late in the film, it feels kind of awkward at the same time, changing his definitions so suddenly. Even beyond Anderson
's more fantastical artistic decisions, his vision can be a difficult one to get behind. There’s a lot of pain along this route he’s planned, deep and ugly reflective pain and he doesn’t want his viewers to get away from the film unscarred by it. Somehow, by the end, this troubling story becomes something of an epiphany, a shaft of light escaped from between the clouds. Realizations have to be earned in his world both by his characters and his audience and he really
makes you earn them.
The Blu-Ray release of “Magnolia”
is troubled in the same way the “Boogie Nights”
one is...nothing new to offer. The release ports the DVD stuff though - A hour documentary about the making of the film that could have used some editing but is as disturbingly honest at points as the film itself; a long version of Tom Cruise
’s seminar that bears a look; the infomercial for Cruise
’s “Search and Destroy”
; the music video Anderson
directed for Aimee Mann
’s song “Save Me”
that is actually pretty neat; and the usual assortment of trailers. Certainly this is the sort of film that deserves a retrospective documentary feature or maybe something more about the Fortean
nature of the film? I had to let my gripes about all that go because “Magnolia”
is still a for-certain BUY
. It’s a film that serious
buffs will continue to discuss and reference for decades to come and rightly so.
Not often is a serious talent like Anderson
handed a blank check to make something this personal and huge, but the wild success of his previous film did exactly that. The only question is, how do you go from working with all these amazing performers to deciding to work
with Adam Sandler
? Now that's a mystery I'd be interested to see solved.
Click Here to Buy Magnolia [Blu-ray]