I think everybody has had that time where you are in a restaurant with your friends, laughing obnoxiously, only to be stopped dead in your tracks at the sight of an old man, eating alone, not saying a word, yet still (unintentionally) drawing attention to himself because of his lonely silence. If there's one thing that we would all agree on in that situation, is that we'd all like to go hug the complete stranger just to make a connection with him. Ultimately, a connection is what we all search for at all times in our life. Magnolia is a film about the connections between everybody; the threads that hold the human race together, and the sameness of all of our experiences.
After the release of Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson was beginning to be looked upon as a bit of a wunderkind. As I stated in my previous article, New Line gave him complete creative control on his next project. He saw the opportunity to make this small film he'd been conceptualizing during Boogie Nights. The film was called Magnolia and it did not end up small.
Magnolia can best be described as an Altman-esque, emotionally grandiose, operatically dramatic, and subtly surreal film about death, regret, loneliness, forgiveness (or lack thereof), control over circumstances, and redemption.
"Here are stories of coincidence and chance, of intersections and strange things told, and which is which and who only knows? And we generally say, "Well, if that was in a movie, I wouldn't believe it." Someone's so-and-so met someone else's so-and-so and so on. And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that strange things happen all the time. And so it goes, and so it goes. And the book says, "We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us." - The Narrator
It is a rainy day in the San Fernando Valley and the rain is not the only unusual thing occurring. Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) is the creator of a seminar focused on helping single men to escape the friendzone and become "sex gods." His estranged father, Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), former producer of famed quiz show, What Do Kids Know, lies on his deathbed, stricken with cancer. His depressed trophy wife, Linda (Julianne Moore) struggles with the idea of his impending death. His caretaker, Phil Parma (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is attempting to ensure that his final wishes are carried out. Cocaine addict, Claudia Wilson (Melora Walters) is the daughter of Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), the host of What Do Kids Know, who is diagnosed with cancer on the eve of his 12,000th broadcast, looking to find redemption. Donnie Smith (William H. Macey) is a washed up former champion of What Do Kids Know, struggling to find significance as an adult, about to get braces that he doesn't need. Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) is an officer for the LAPD with a good heart. Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) is the reigning champion on What Do Kids Know being severely exploited by his father. All of these characters are introduced at the same time as we follow all of them on this one rainy day in which great things occur. I only scratched the surface of it, it gets much more complicated than that. In short, this film is the story of a bunch of broken people just trying to make sense of the grand confusion of their lives, all leading up to an ending so unexpected and weird that you'll wish you had seen it coming.
It's easy to see that the film is a very personal piece, and very ambitious. It is epic in both length and scope. Because of the large amount of complex and fleshed out characters, it is hard to not find a way to connect to what this film is trying to say to all of us. In short, it's simply beautiful, and I would rank it fourth overall in my rankings of Anderson's films. Again, I'll explain soon enough. It's a masterpiece, even in it's flaws of clarity, and is one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. If you've seen it, you know which scenes in particular cause me to say that.
The film was a huge hit and was nominated for multiple awards, including three Oscars. Roger Ebert included it on his Great Films List, and Ingmar Bergman considered it to be an example of the strength of American cinema.
Paul Thomas Anderson won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2000, and was officially considered to be a new master of cinema. When asked what he would do next, he said he would make an Adam Sandler film that would be 90 minutes long. The world laughed and then shut up and proceeded to laugh again.
Up Next: Anderson takes on the French New Wave and Adam Sandler is a good actor.