Saturday, September 08, 2012
Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 10/8/05 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia is a multi-layered story that chronicles a day in the life of various people in Los Angeles. Among them is a loser salesman, a cop, a gold-digging wife who realizes her love for her husband while his estranged son is a conflicted self-help guru. Other stories include a child in a game show while its host is dealing with personal problems that include his daughter's self-destructive behavior. The film explores the world of coincidences, chance, redemption, and failure that connects these characters in this very fascinating drama. With an all-star cast that includes P.T. Anderson regulars like Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Jay, Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, William H. Macy, Luis Guzman, and Alfred Molina plus Jason Robards, Felicity Huffman, Melinda Dillon, Michael Bowen, April Grace, Michael Murphy, Jeremy Blackman, and Tom Cruise. Magnolia is an ambitious yet engrossing drama from P.T. Anderson.
Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) is a TV game show host who is about to reach 12,000 hours of broadcasting while his daughter Claudia (Melora Walters) is binging on sex and drugs in another part of Los Angeles. Set to be on Gator's TV show is a kid named Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) who is intent to study while his father Rick (Michael Bowen) is doing auditions. A man named Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) is about to get corrective teeth surgery as he reflects on his time back in 1968 when he won Gator's show back in 1968 at the age of 10. Meanwhile, Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is dying as he's in the care of nurse named Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman) while Earl's wife Linda (Julianne Moore) run errands. Jim (John C. Reilly) is a police officer whose day starts off strange due to a disturbance by a woman named Marcie (Cleo King) over a dead body as he later meets a young rapping boy named Dixon (Emmanuel Johnson).
With Earl on his deathbed, he ponders about his life as he asks Phil to find his estranged son Frank (Tom Cruise), who has re-invented himself as seminar guru Frank T.J. Mackey as he's being interviewed by a reporter named Gwenovier (April Grace). Jimmy makes an unexpected visit to Claudia's apartment to reveal some startling news as the meeting doesn't go well as he hoped to be as he later calls his wife Rose (Melinda Dillon) about what happened. Claudia would react badly to the news as she causes a disturbance where she attracts the attention of Jim as the two fall for each other where they later see each other for a date. After visiting a doctor and her lawyer Alan Kligman Esq., Linda would make a confession of her own as she asks to be removed from Earl's will. After being fired by his boss Solomon (Alfred Molina) over lateness and incompetence, Donnie goes to a bar to cope with failure where he reveals some stories of his own as he tries to profess his love to the bartender Brad (Craig Kvinsland) while talking to a man named Thurston Howell (Henry Gibson).
Later that night on Jimmy's show, Stanley shows up to the studio nearly late as he gets ready to play the game. Yet, Jimmy starts to feel sick during the show while Stanley also succumbs to pressure leaving the show in trouble. Frank's meeting with Gwenovier starts off fine until she starts to press questions about his past as he gets a call from his assistant about Phil. Frank reluctantly talks to Phil as he hears the news while Linda comes home to learn that Phil contacted Frank. Just before his date with Claudia, Jim has a run-in with a supposed killer as he loses his gun as it would be a horrible moment for him as he later talks to Claudia about it during their date. After the show, Jimmy makes a confession to rose about a dark family secret while Donnie decides to do something about his job as everyone starts to face their own conscious in one big moment.
While the film and its overlapping storylines might include many influences from Robert Altman, P.T. Anderson definitely goes for that style to bring something that is very ambitious while using that to make a film about one simple theme, love. Some might call this an existential film of sorts or a psychological drama or an epic drama or anything yet it's definitely one of the most original films of the decade. Particularly the way the film carries so many stories without losing track of its theme and major characters. Every character in that film is connected to another, one way or later on.
What makes the film so interesting is its epic-length structure where none of the subplots lose itself or becomes a distraction. Anderson carefully constructs each scene and each act into what the film's theme is about. The first six minutes has an eerie prologue that returns later on in the third act with a narrator (the voice of Ricky Jay) talking about coincidences. Then, eight minutes go by into the first act where Anderson introduces all of the major characters in the film. The first act is really about all of those characters, their troubles, and what kind of people they are. The second act is them exposing themselves, trying to hide from reality or deal with simple problems like Stanley wanting to go to the bathroom or Phil trying to reach Frank. The dialogue throughout the film, though stylized is very real once it comes to an emotional breaking point which leads to the film's third act.
The third act of the film is those characters dealing with confrontation, guilt, failure, and desperation while the emotions and situations become more complex. With the rain being a part of the second act of the film, the rain dies down and we see every character stripped-down to their real selves no matter what the audience thinks of them, it's the payoff that matters in the end. This would lead to one of these moments that can be described as What the fuck? There, the film shifts into something that is really mind boggling and then talking about it afterwards into an understanding, particularly with the film's prologue.
If Anderson's ambitions as a writer reaches new heights, so does his directing as he continues to create long, running steadicam shots that would go on for a few minutes in one take. His presentation is very linear though it shifts back and forth into one story and into another where in the second act, it creates all sorts of tension that definitely sets up a classic moment in terms of its emotions. Even in the some scenes, he creates tense atmosphere for the characters that would lead to them reaching some emotional breaking point. It's some of the finest directing that has been captured onto a film.
Helping Anderson in his vision is longtime cinematographer Robert Elswit. Elswit's cinematography is filled with amazing lighting, notably in the exterior night sequences that is filled with a lot of atmosphere with a bit of grainy yet dreamy imagery that complements Los Angeles in its beauty. In interior scenes, the film is well-lit which helps create the tension of the film. Editor Dylan Tichenor helps create the multiple storyline of Anderson's script, notably the second act where the film is cut very swiftly but is given enough time for each character to tell their story. Production designers William Arnold and Mark Bridges help create atmosphere in the film's look including the bar scene that is filled with an intimacy and tension to the film. Mark Bridges also brings in some great costume, notably the loser clothing for William H. Macy, and the posh clothing of Julianne Moore.
The film's soundtrack even helps to tell the story whether its Emmanuel Johnson rapping or Gabrielle playing in Donnie Smith's car. Even Supertramp appears in a couple of songs in the bar that Donnie goes to. Yet the score is dominated by the score of Jon Brion that brings a lot of atmosphere and tension to the film with additional contributions from P.T. Anderson's then-girlfriend Fiona Apple who adds a lot of piano flourishes to Brion's score. Then there's the music of Aimee Mann who dominates many of the film's music including a cover of Harry Nilsson's One as well as a few cuts including the Oscar-nominated Save Me and the song Wise Up where each major character gets to sing a verse in one of the film's most emotional scene.
Then there's the film's amazingly glorious ensemble cast that includes great small performances from Anderson regulars like Luis Guzman, Alfred Molina, and Ricky Jay who also does a fine job in the narration of the prologue. Also noted for small performances are the kids Emmanuel Johnson, Natalie Marston and Bobby Brewer as Stanley's partners in the game, plus pre-Desperate Housewife maiden Felicity Huffman in a small role as a production assistant, Henry Gibson as a rival for Donnie for the affections of a bartender, Michael Bowen as Stanley's greedy father, and Michael Murphy as Linda's attorney. In smaller but very important roles, April Grace does an excellent job in her performance as Frank Mackey's interviewer who doesn't get herself intimidated by Mackey's presence. Cleo King is also wonderful as Marcie, the woman who is suspected of a murder in the film's first major scene. Melinda Dillon is amazing as Jimmy Gator's wife who has her moment in the scene when Jimmy confesses about his secrets as she brings her best dramatic moment.
Phillip Baker Hall gives a great performance as the dying, regret-filled Jimmy Gator who starts off with an iconic status but his exterior is stripped down as Hall brings a performance that is nothing short of brilliance. Another veteran actor who shines in one of his final performances is Jason Robards as the dying Earl Partridge who is filled with regret and anger in a way that only Robards can do as he gives a performance that goes out in a graceful, masterful way. Melora Walters is also excellent as the troubled, lonely Claudia with her desire to self-destruct and not be with anyone until John C. Reilly comes and gives her a bit of hope as Walters shines in her performance. Reilly is also amazing as the lonely cop Jim who tries to do the right thing but one mental mistake brings him to an emotional breakdown as he leans to Claudia for support. William H. Macy gives another great performance in playing another loser as Macy brings a lot of angst and heartbreak into his performance as a lonely man who is filled with a lot of conflict and his desire to bring love.
Jeremy Blackman gives a riveting performance as Stanley who is smart but once the pressure to continue comes in, all he wants to do is go to the bathroom. Blackman brings a lot of sympathy and angst to his role as a kid whose simple desire is ignored as he realizes that he's become a puppet of sorts with only one man sympathizing with him. Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives a great supporting performance as Phil who nurses Earl and is always at his side. Hoffman has great scenes with Robards as he desperately takes care of him, no matter how bad he is as Hoffman brings a character who doesn't go into a change but it's his heart and role that shows a true example of a true supporting character.
Julianne Moore gives another amazing performance in a P.T. Anderson film as a guilt-ridden woman who is desperately realizing her sins. Moore brings a lot of theatrics to her role as well as a lot of emotions as she plays a character whose actions are unforgivable as she asks to be punished for her sins. It's truly one of her more remarkable performances that leads to a troubling aftermath as Moore's desperation truly gives her character something that she really needed in the film's theme. Tom Cruise gives one of the best performances of his career as Frank T.J. Mackey. Cruise early brings in a lot of intensity with a winning personality and presence with one great line. "Respect the cock and tame the cunt!" Cruise goes for intimidation and fire early on but once his true character is revealed, he brings a lot of restraint to his role until the third act when he gives out some great, fiery emotions in his scene with Jason Robards.
Magnolia is a sprawling yet magnificent film from Paul Thomas Anderson. Armed with an outstanding ensemble cast, great technical work, and a captivating story, the film is definitely unlike anything out there in terms of the themes it presents and what it wanted to say. It's a very smart and ambitious ensemble-driven film with multiple storylines that manages to not lose sight of what it wants to say while giving characters that audiences can be engaged by. In the end, Magnolia is a phenomenal film from Paul Thomas Anderson.
Paul Thomas Anderson Films: Sydney/Hard Eight - Boogie Nights - Punch-Drunk Love - There Will Be Blood - The Master - Inherent Vice - Junun - Phantom Thread
The Short Films & Videos of P.T. Anderson - The Auteurs #15: Paul Thomas Anderson
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