Review: Magnolia (1999)

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If an Exodus level event ever happens to me then I know the end of the world is nigh!

Written By: Paul Thomas Anderson
Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson

Magnolia could have been a cluttered and fractured mess. Surely in the hands of a lesser director it would have. But, Paul Thomas Anderson makes sure that his characters have room to breathe and the various stores are given the proper time to grow. Because of this space, the themes in Magnolia are also allowed to fully develop so that the shocking moment in Magnolia makes perfect sense within the narrative, the thematic structure and in the grander sense. That’s the main feeling I came away with upon finishing Magnolia, it was a movie that made perfect sense. Not just within itself, but in the world I lived in.

No discussion of Magnolia would be complete without the frogs, yes, the frogs. I was surprised to find out after watching the film that the frogs were a major bone of contention for some people. I think they work perfectly as a reminder that even the best laid plans can be ruined, and that in this world there is a randomness to everything, but at the same time there is a connectivity between people within that randomness, even if we don’t see it. Frogs fall from the sky and it may be a sign that there is someone up above, or it may be a sign that we weren’t supposed to take the action we were about to undertake. Maybe frogs falling from the sky is a sign that we have no control over our own fates, or it’s a sign that the tiniest of our actions can affect people who are only vaguely a relation/friend. There are many meanings that can be gleaned from the frogs, and the fact that there is no definite answer is why Anderson is such a great film maker and Magnolia is such a great film.

Magnolia is an ensemble piece, no single actor or actress is the lead, and in a lot of ensemble movies that can spell doom because the entire cast needs to be up to the challenge. In Magnolia every single actor/actress was on the ball and delivered a great performance. I’ve heard people argue that there was plenty of overacting in Magnolia, but upon close inspection I can’t help but feel those people are confusing genuine displays of emotion with overacting. Tom Cruise is superb as the sexist, egotistical Frank Mackey, a man who has hidden how he actually feels so deep just to ensure he will never get hurt again. Julianne Moore delivers as the trophy wife who can’t handle what she has done to the man who is about to die. Jason Robards is subtle and quiet, as is Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the media mogul nearing death and no longer in control of his faculties. I could go down the list and there wouldn’t be a single bad performance among the bunch, but one performance stood out to me, that of John C. Reilly as Jim Kurring. Reilly is a criminally underrated actor, able to be the screwball comic as well as the serious lead. He is a very human actor, able to make the audience feel great sympathy or joy for him. In a film full of big characters it is the smaller nature of Reilly that anchors the audience to what is happening.

For as great as Magnolia is, there are a few flaws amidst its splendor. The rapping kid is a pretty big distraction, mainly because he can’t rap and is bad at trying to be cute. Near the end I also felt that some of the stories were shortchanged in their ability to connect with the viewer. Most notably the stories of Jimmy Gator and Stanley Spector didn’t feel like finished products. Both of those story lines could have used more focus in the end and a bit more refinement to their contents.

Magnolia is a strong film, and a great effort from Paul Thomas Anderson, a film maker that for the most part stays under the radar despite having an incredible resume of films. For those who don’t think Tom Cruise can act, who love multi-layered stories or want their movies to be full of themes and messages that are delivered in a subtle fashion then Magnolia is for you. I enjoyed watching the film, and the three hour running time shouldn’t put anyone off. The film captivates you right off the bat and whisks you away so quickly that you don’t realize how much time has gone by. Next time you want to see a magnolia, skip the flowers and see the film instead.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

2 responses to “Review: Magnolia (1999)

  1. love this film, certainly original,
    newman

  2. It ties into Anderson’s filmography quite well.

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