Magnolia (1999)

Magnolia (1999)
  • Time: 188 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Cast: Tom Cruise, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman


24 hours in L.A.; it’s raining cats and dogs. Two parallel and intercut stories dramatize men about to die: both are estranged from a grown child, both want to make contact, and neither child wants anything to do with dad. Earl Partridge’s son is a charismatic misogynist; Jimmy Gator’s daughter is a cokehead and waif. A mild and caring nurse intercedes for Earl, reaching the son; a prayerful and upright beat cop meets the daughter, is attracted to her, and leads her toward a new calm. Meanwhile, guilt consumes Earl’s young wife, while two whiz kids, one grown and a loser and the other young and pressured, face their situations. The weather, too, is quirky.


  • Magnolia is a work of shear beauty. With a knockout cast, a compelling, heartbreaking plot, and enough creative touches to keep it from being mundane. Each story reflects a younger person, affected by the choices of their parents. Whether it’s the boy genius hurt by the way his father, and other adults treat him, as a toy, not a person. The sleazy motivational speaker who was forced to take care of his mother and himself, after his dad left with no notice. The junkie who believes she was molested as a child. The misguided former child star, who shows the effects of the treatment of adults, as a boy genius. But maybe even more compelling are the stories of the adults who effected the lives of these younger people. The game show host, suffering from cancer and the disaffection of his daughter. The mentally unstable woman who married an older man for money, but fell in love with him on his deathbed. The man in the bed who is overwhelmed by the guilt of his past and the self loathing for leaving his wife and son. And there are characters who only enter the stories of other people, without a real background story of their own. The socially awkward cop, who finds it difficult to make the decision of whether someone should be forgiven or not. The male nurse, who wants to try and help make the dying man’s life better before he dies, by trying to contact the estranged son. The mysterious little ghetto boy, who claims to know the answer to an unsolved murder at the start of the film. All of these stories are beautifully woven together in a quilt of loss, love, darkness, hate, and remembrance. Magnolia will blow you away, and leave you thinking, hours after the DVD stops spinning.

  • Genius is the first word that comes to mind. Original, daring, unexpected and intense are others. Magnolia is writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s third film and there is not one frame of his three-hour opus that does not dazzle. It is a film that ambitiously ventures to explore several themes that reverberate through at least ten main characters, each with their own particular narrative arc which may spin off, parallel or contrast the other stories.

    Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is a man who lies dying. His condition has put his second, much younger wife Linda (Julianne Moore) in a heightened state of desperation. Originally, she had married him for his wealth but she has grown to genuinely love him and is now repentant for all her cruelty, adulterous and otherwise, towards him. Earl, who adores her, has more pressing loose ends to resolve – namely, reconciling with his estranged son Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise). Frank, who has armored his childhood difficulties with machismo, is a television guru of female seduction. A literally self-created man, he urges his followers to seduce and destroy: “Respect the cock and tame the cunt.”

    Elsewhere in the San Fernando Valley, Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) prepares for another stint on the game show What Do Kids Know?, on which he and his fame-hungry teammates have had a long-running winning streak. Young Stanley doesn’t care much for the spotlight – what he wants is for his father to love im. Let’s pray Stanley doesn’t end up like Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), who was once a famous quiz kid and who is now working in an electronics store. In love with a local bartender, he goes to risky lengths to be noticed by him.

    Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), host of What Do Kids Know?, finds the dark deeds of his past coming back to challenge the image of him being a faultless family man and public figure. Like Earl, who owns the game show, Jimmy is trying to right his familial wrongs. Jimmy’s daughter Claudia (Melora Walters) is already lost to an insatiable cocaine addiction but she may yet be saved by LAPD officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly), who falls for her at first sight.

    Thematically, it’s depressing fare – the sins of our fathers wreaking havoc with their children’s futures, the past creeping up and strangling our futures. Time and again, the characters discover that they may be done with the past but the past isn’t done with them. Everyone is looking for forgiveness and a new beginning; a mass cleansing must occur and that requires a catacylsmic event, an apocalypse if you will, and Magnolia provides us with a most deliriously surrealistic one. Only through breaking down can we rebuild, Anderson seems to be saying, and all of his characters are facing that time in their lives when they must inventory their sins and begin atonement to continue living. Not functioning, but living.

    Anderson, as he did in Hard Eight and especially Boogie Nights, displays his Altmanesque knack for writing for an expansive cast of characters and presenting the story with the caffeinated energy of Seventies-era Scorsese. Anderson’s filmmaking pulsates with infectious, rallying energy – just to feel his palpable love of the cinema and the possibilities of what he can do with it is enough to recommend the film.

    The cast, many of whom are Hard Eight and Boogie Nights veterans, reward Anderson’s complexly layered writing with meticulously crafted performances. Cruise absolutely impresses but why should it take a Paul Thomas Anderson film to make audiences realize what a fine actor he is? He has always been fantastic — The Color of Money, Rain Man, Born on the Fourth of July, A Few Good Men, Jerry Maguire — and like the rest of the ensemble, he is provided with arias which he truly makes soar. His outrageous monologue at his seminar, his struggle to keep his hateful composure in front of his dying father, Linda as she lashes out at the pharmacist who suspiciously eyes her prescription, Officer Jim as he listens to the rapping of a neighborhood kid (“Hold it, Coolio.”) or as he listens to Claudia’s need to tell the truth, Jimmy Gator – did he or didn’t he with his own daughter, the out of left field musical montage all the characters find themselves in.

    As the narrator of the film’s prologue, which is almost a non-sequitur into the film, summarizes, “It was not a matter of chance. These things happen all the time.”

    Click here for more reviews at the etc-etera site

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *