Truly unlike anything else, 'Magnolia' is one of those movies that stays with you long after watching it. Fantastic performances and a heartbreaking script from P.T. Anderson come together to create something emotional and profoundly original.
So it's gone from 2 stars to 3.5 stars, to where I can appreciate what it's trying to do even if I don't think it does it in the best way it could.
This movie features numerous interconnected storylines of characters who undergo internal and external conflicts such as a nurse (Phil) sent to look after an elderly man (Earl) dying of cancer, a boy genius (Stanley) who's close to breaking a record on a game show called "What Do Kid's Know?" in which the host (Jimmy) also has cancer, a sex-guru (Frank) who grew to hate women due to his childhood, a cop (Jim) who becomes attracted to a woman (Claudia) whose house he goes to, a previous winner of the game show (Donnie) who wants to get braces, and a woman (Linda) who doesn't want to get will money from Earl after he dies.
Despite being over 3 hours long, I feel like this is one of the most engaging films I've seen in years. All of the main characters in the film undergo different kinds of conflicts. I felt feelings of suspense and sadness in about every single one of its shots. As the film cut between different sequences of the characters' struggles, I was completely absorbed in the film. It didn't lose my interest at all. A great scene from the film is when all of the characters start singing Aimee Mann's "Wise Up." This scene shows how all the characters are going through similar struggles. It's also an example of the theme of coincidence. The most beautiful sequence in the film, however, is when Earl talks about his regrets to Phil. This scene is emotionally powerful, and it lingered with me long after watching it.
However, probably the most memorable scene is the surprising final act. Although that sequence seems out-of-place at first glance, it makes sense considering the theme of "coincidence" in the film. The first scene from the film which showed the 3 instances of coincidence justified the final act. It showed that instead of something bringing all the characters together in a conventional way, something bizarre would do it. What happened at the final act concluded all of the character arcs. The final act is, without a doubt, the best scene from the film. It's also one of my favorite movie scenes of all time.
The theme of parenting and the effects that it has on children was handled well. A character who's a good example of this theme is Frank. We learn from an interview that Frank had to take care of his mother since his father left him. When he grows up, he becomes a sex guru and a misogynist. The movie raises the question: How did his hatred pass from his father to women? There is also Quiz Kid Donnie Smith, a former winner of "What Do Kid's Know?". When he was young, his father took all the money he won on the show away from him. This eventually influenced him to try and steal money to afford the braces. The best example of this theme, however, is Stanley Spector since he's the only main child character in the film. While on the show, he acts out against his dad after he realizes that his dad is using him for money. Since these characters were fully developed in the film, this theme was handled well.
The ensemble cast did a great job. Tom Cruise as Frank T.J. Mackey did a great job. Cruise is usually hit or miss for me. However, I think that this role was perfect for him as he did a great job in it. This is, undoubtedly, his best role yet. Jason Robards as Earl Partridge did an outstanding job. Despite playing a weak, elderly man dying of cancer, there was always humanity and emotion that he delivered (it's ironic that the actor playing Earl died of cancer a year after this film was released). Julianna Moore as Linda Partridge was also fantastic. She always managed to sound charismatic and energetic without sounding over-the-top. All of the other actors and actresses were great as well. I didn't have any particular issues with a cast member.
In conclusion, this movie is definitely a masterpiece. When I consider how it's able to create suspense and heartbreak out of just about every scene, have one of the most surprising movie scenes of all time, and contain a lot or re-watch value, it sticks out as one of the most impressive films I can think of. We witness the pains and struggles of the people in this epic throughout its 3 hour runtime, and the film remains absorbing from beginning to end.
This movie is quite obviously about mishandled relationships, specifically parents and children. Anderson's opinions on father-son relationships are 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.