Magnolia

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, Jason Robards, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Jeremy Blackman.
MPAA Rating: R for strong language, drug use, sexuality and some violence.

Review by Matt Heffernan
December 20, 1999

Wow, what a year! What started like a typical weekend of unexceptional Hollywood fluff has been shaken up. There have been some pretty weird films this year, ranging from Election to Being John Malkovich, but Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia takes the cake.

The film revolves around two celebrities, and their family and acquaintances. Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) is a sex guru, helping men "Seduce and Destroy" beautiful women. Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) is the host of "What Do Kids Know?", a long-running quiz show that pits a team of adults against a team of child prodigies. We see a current contestant, Stanley (Jeremy Blackman), who is dominating the team and destroying all adult competition. Over the years, these wiz-kids have also become celebrities, and Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) is still trying to cash in on it 30 years after his legendary appearance on the show.

A major theme of the film is death, and how people are dying. Frank's estranged father, Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is dying from cancer, bedridden under the care of his nurse: Phil Parmer (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Earl's young wife, Linda (Julianne Moore), is contemplating suicide. Jimmy also has cancer, but his daughter Claudia (Melora Walters) is trying to beat him to the great beyond by snorting huge quantities of cocaine. Her progress is undisturbed even when she starts dating policeman Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly).

From this description, Magnolia would seem to be just another Nashville-like ensemble piece, but I have left out the more bizarre details that Robert Altman could never come up with. I wouldn't want to give any of them away, but let me jsut say that this film has the weirdest ending I have ever seen. The Sixth Sense and Fight Club have nothing on it. Not only is it weird, but the film spends a good two reels winding down.

Which leads me to one of its shortcomings. At three hours, it is overlong, but only by about 15 minutes. There is a period towards the end where the film starts to slow down. It happens after a part of the film that takes place in real time. The game show is broadcast live, and during that hour, Anderson cuts between all the different characters. Anderson pulls it off quite well, demonstrating his brilliant technical ability. Unfortunately, he also tends to get a little too arty for his own good, and some of his sequences get lost examining themselves.

If you liked Anderson's Boogie Nights, you shouldn't be disappointed by Magnolia. Most of the cast is brought back, except Mark Wahlberg and Burt Reynolds (but I'll take Cruise and Robards over them any day). Also, Walters has to take the role of Lead Blonde, without Heather Graham to upstage her. Of course, most of these actors were also in Anderson's first film: Hard Eight (where Walters was in the golden shadow of Gwyneth Paltrow). Anderson has assembled the best "stock company" that Hollywood has seen in decades, and I eagerly look forward to their next show.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Magnolia (1999)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Magnolia (1999) -- VHS
Magnolia (1999) -- DVD
Magnolia: The Illustrated Screenplay, by Paul Thomas Anderson -- Hardcover
Magnolia: The Illustrated Screenplay, by Paul Thomas Anderson -- Paperback
Magnolia: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc


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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan