Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia is set on one random day in the San Fernando Valley where we have to believe that ‘inexplicable things just do happen’. Magnolia is a mosaic of American life told through a series of tragic and comic tales. The ensemble cast is impressive: Jason Robards/ Julianne Moore/ Tom Cruise/ Michael Bowen/ William H Macy/ Philip Baker Hall/ Melinda Dillon/ Melora Walter/ John C Reilly/ Philip Seymour Hoffman/ Emmanuel
The themes covered in Magnolia are based on co-incidence and history. At the centre of a complex maze of connections is a dying man, Earl Partridge (played by Robards) and his coming to terms with his failures in life and his wish to see his estranged son. Enter Cruise who, as the Golden Boy Wonder, sells sex seminars to men on how they can get women – “Seduce & Destroy”. Aside from this – Robards wife (Moore), fuelled on amphetamines, realises that she actually does love him despite originally marrying him for his money.
Running almost as an alternate plot is the story of Earl Partridge’s
TV game show, which he created in the Sixties. This brings us to Donnie Smith (WH Macy), who once won the contest as a child genius but now is broke and has an odd fixation for oral surgery, and Stanley Spector – the new kid quizmaster and the pressures he faces from a pushy father. Add a dying quiz show host and his cocaine addicted daughter, a love struck dimwit police officer, who believes he ‘can make a difference’, and you are left with one of the most bizarre, original and inventive screenplays this year.
The film is simply magnificent. Winner of the ‘Golden Lion’ at the Berlin Film Festival and 3 Oscar nominations, I’d be surprised if it didn’t win the Oscar for best original screenplay. Tom Cruise gives a flawless performance, in fact, every single cast member gives their life and soul in this truly heart breaking / heart warming film. Like Anderson’s Boogie Nights, both stories have characters that spiral into a sympathetic depression. The cinematography is inventive and MTV generation-esque and the Aimee Mann soundtrack is moody and evocative to boot.
Some say at 3 hours 10 minutes Magnolia is too long – well let them whinge about that. I thought I would find myself squirming after an hour but the story is so engaging and provocative you are left still asking questions about the film long after the credits have rolled. For those that enjoy a challenging and rewarding cinematic experience, Magnolia is for you – for those that don’t, The Flintstones sequel is out soon.