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Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia”

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Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia
Image credit: New Line Cinema

On Monday evening, amid incessant worrying about a daughter who got stranded in school while floods in the metropolis rose higher and higher, there was a three-hour period when I was able to relax and unwind. Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” was on satellite TV but I can’t even remember now which channel. Not that the channel really matters. This is about the movie — a movie I never heard of until late on Monday evening but which caught my full attention within three minutes of the screening time.

Magnolia has many, many characters and each has his story. There’s Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), a TV producer of a child game show who is on his deathbed, his drug-addicted wife Linda (Julianne Moore) who is guilt ridden for marrying the old man for his money and no longer wanting to be the beneficiary under his will, and Earl’s nurse, Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman). There’s the child game show host Jimmy and his cocaine addicted daughter Claudia who hates him, the game show wonder child Stanley who was no longer living a normal school life as both his money-crazed father and the school were focused on his victory in the TV show, and the long-ago game show champion Donnie (William H. Macey) who drunkenly confesses in a bar how his own parents took his game show winnings leaving him with nothing. Then, there’s the how-to-seduce-women guru Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise) and the policeman Jim (John C. Reilly).

The three-hour-eight-minute movie follows these characters over the course of one day, from morning ’till evening, as they went about their lives and until their lives somehow intersected. It’s not an unheard of formula — an all-star cast playing characters with intersecting lives. We’ve seen it in movies like Love, Actually, Traffic and Vantage Point. But Magnolia was released in 1999, years ahead of all three, and I wonder if it set a trend of some sort.

The year 1999 was the same year that The Matrix came out. Both Magnolia and The Matrix were written and directed by very young and very innovative artists. The Matrix was, of course, written, produced and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski, formerly The Wachowski Brothers, now known as The Wachowskis after Larry became Lana. Magnolia was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson who first came to fame with Boogie Nights and who would later write, co-produce and direct the award winning There Will Be Blood. Makes me think that 1999 was an important year for young visionary artists in the American film industry.

For people who prefer feel-good movies, Magnolia is probably not up your alley. Depending on your mindset, as the story unfolds, all the characters appear to all be losers so Magnolia can be depressing. Unlike Requiem For A Dream (a film with so many sorry characters), Magnolia does end on a happier note as when it began although not in any fairy tale sense.

I don’t want to summarize the story as I am hoping you’d find time to see the movie (if you haven’t yet) so, no spoilers. Some things to notice though if you decide to see it. The first is the musical score and soundtrack. “Save Me”, one of the two songs especially written for the film was later nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe. The songs were more than background music. There were scenes when the songs totally drowned out the dialogues but the technique was very, very effective.

The second is Tom Cruise’s performance for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in the Oscars and for which he won Best Supporting Actor in the Golden Globes. Speedy and I thought he was overacting, as usual, and his over-the-top intensity seemed so out of place with the more restrained yet more emotionally explosive performance of his co-actors, especially those of John C. Reilly, William H. Macy and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Even Henry Gibson who played the very minor character of a gay customer in a bar who was competing with Donnie (Macy) for the attention of the hunk of a bartender conveyed more emotion with a raised eyebrow than the clenched-fists-over-crumpled-face of Cruise’s character as he sat on the bedside of the dying Earl Partidge.

To sum it up, despite Tom Cruise, Magnolia is a film worth watching.