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Magnolia (1999) - Movie Review

By Widge - posted 12.17.99 @ 11:37 pm
Magnolia movie poster

Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Robards

My Advice: Wait for Cable.

Paul Thomas Anderson begins his opus with an interesting postulation. All of those urban legends (or are they? Hmmm...) that you've no doubt gotten in your in-basket more than once--the unlucky scuba diver and the unlucky victim of a murder turned suicide--they may be strange and weird, but they happen all the time. So how weird can they be? This is what the narrator presents us with before Anderson introduces us to a veritable slew of different characters. What they all have in common is that they are miserable and their parents more than likely screwed up their lives. We deal with their crap for two and a half hours. And they all sing a song together...don't ask. And then the really weird thing happens, which I won't spoil for you, because it and Tom Cruise the two interesting things in this art-wank festival.

Part of what made Boogie Nights such an engaging film was its cast of characters. All were well developed, given lots of interesting things to do...and you could come to care about them. You wanted to sit out the two and a half hours and see what happened. Unfortunately, in this instance, not only are all the characters simply meandering about, they do so for over three hours. It's kind of like Robert Altman if he consumed a lot of cough syrup.

Let's talk about the characters and the actors who play them for a minute. Julianne Moore, screams, throws tantrums and cries. Jason Robards lies in a bed and says "cocksucker" a lot. Jeremy Blackman needs to go to the bathroom and cries. John C. Reilly really needs to get out more often. Melora Walters snorts a lot of Peruvian marching dust and cries. William H. Macy really really needs to get out more often. That about sums it up.

The only saving grace, indeed the only reason really to watch it at all, is to see Tom Cruise do his thing. He plays a self-help guru who wants to teach you how to "seduce and destroy" the women in your life. His scenes are over-the-top perfection, but they are too few and far between. You miss him when he's not on screen. Why? Because he's interesting. What a concept.

This is an incredibly pretentious film in search of a point, and that search becomes quickly tiresome as Anderson wanders through these characters' unhappy lives. And any time something supposedly "magical" or "weird" happens (i.e. the song, a certain biblical quote), it's not effective, it's incongruous and, yes, silly. A lot of people will enjoy this film because they don't know what it means, thus it's art. As for me, P.T. Anderson reminds me a lot of P.T. Barnum--I sure as hell was looking to see the egress.

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Widgett Walls is Need Coffee's Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. He is the author of the novel Mystics on the Road to Vanishing Point, and two collections of short stories, Magnificent Desolation and Something Else: The Complete First Season. He is also co-author of the children's book There's a Zombie in My Treehouse! All of those books are available in paperback or for the Kindle from Amazon. He is also the narrator and publisher of the first unabridged recording of Seneca's letters, available here. He is active on both Twitter and Facebook. (If you befriend him on Facebook, do say you came via Need Coffee.) He lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. He hardly ever sleeps.

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