In what plays like a sophisticated Lifetime drama, these characters come to face their pasts and hope for a brighter future. However, with a confusing yet no less inspired ending, director Paul Thomas Anderson leaves the film as a question as to what is truly possible in connections and in relationships. Throughout the film, there are anecdotes about incredible coincidences and discussions about the fundamentals of movie plotpoints. Anderson leaves us wondering whether these resolved endings are truly possible in life. While it could be seen as a commentary on the ridiculousness of how some movies end, I have no doubt it is an inspiring message that allows people to try to achieve those happy endings that sometimes seemed to be trapped in the films we love to watch.
Magnolia is a very competent film: using songs by Aimee Mann, the film never falters from the bittersweet tone that encompasses life. Anderson utilizes the camera to never leave a dull moment, but by far, these actors' performances stand out above all. In what can only be described as Williams-esque, each actor gives a fully flushed out emotional journey that leaves not one person questioning the authenticity of each particular feeling. Tom Cruise particularly stands out, with a complexity and development that could surmount to the best of his career. All in all, Magnolia can hold its own. Although dragging its feet at times with filler, the entire experience is an enjoyable one; it's a film that will keep the characters in your heart, and its blatant, but no less timeless lessons in your life.
The one negative about this review process is that I can't rate it lower.
This movie is quite obviously about mishandled relationships, specifically parents and children. Anderson's opinions on father-son relationships is really fascinating to me. There are very few secure or healthy father-son relationships in Anderson films. Dirk Diggler walks all over his impish, emasculated father in BOOGIE NIGHTS, Daniel Plainview realizes his incapability to choose his son over his own greed in THERE WILL BE BLOOD, and Barry Egan only has female familial relationships in PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE.
It's clear from the get-go that Magnolia is an ambition work- you know what to expect going in. An ensemble cast, each playing intricate characters whose lives we will catch a good glimpse of and all the while we'll know that everything is going to come together in some way and we're gong to leave feeling completely satisfied. To some extent, that is exactly what happens, but it also isn't.
Sound complicated? Well, that's because it is. Magnolia is brimming with ideas and it's blatantly obvious that Paul Thomas Anderson had a blast when putting this one together. There are so many characters, none of whom are short-changed in this three hour film and so many different emotional colours are touched upon throughout the piece.
It's never even slightly dull or boring though and it goes from dramatic to comedic with such ease and Grace that you begin to understand why the likes of Hoffman, Moore, Cruise, and Macy would all be willing to take part in this film without any of them ever being the star.
There is no one story here, instead there's like seven or something- I don't even remember, but I loved them all and I believed them all and I didn't really care that, as the film went on, it looked less and less likely that I was every gong to feel truly fulfilled when all was said and done. By the half-way point, I saw no real way for the characters involved to come together and it was fine with that. I still wanted it though, I really did.
Then it happened. This... thing, just kind of happened and, as critic Joe Siegel noted (very disparagingly, I might add):
"(it) had nothing to do with anything that we've seen before that I couldn't watch. I literally could not watch it".
I, on the other hand, could not stop watching it. This 'moment' will ever hit you as the great success or the great failure in this film and I'll let you watch it for yourself and decide. However, for me, it was clearly a success and it remains one of my favourite moments in film history. As Ebert put it:
"what it transforms at the end is our expectation that every movie has to be dead in the water and be predictable, be formulaic and in the way we expect it to. This movie is alive and free to surprise us".
This is a pretty melodramatic work and it heavily features the music of Aimee Mann, going as far as to have characters in the film both quote her work and, at one, point even actually sing it. To some people, this will probably be a bit much but, hey, I really like Aimee Mann and I think the songs are great so I liked it.
You might think that this film is a disaster but I think that you should watch it anyway. Why? Well, instead, you might end up thinking that it's kind of a masterpiece. Isn't individual interpretation great?
But the cast was star studded. Very good acting.