Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jason Robards Jr., Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Baker Hall, Melora Walters, John C. Reilly, Melinda Dillon, William H. Macy, Michael Bowen, Jeremy Blackman, Emmanuel Johnson, Clark Gregg
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
MPAA Rating: R for strong language, drug use, sexuality and some violence
Running Time: 188
Date: 08/12/1999

Magnolia (1999)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

In Bloom

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson brings us his third movie after Hard Eight and Boogie Nights (both 1997) with more confidence and skill than his 29 years would suggest. He belongs in the canon with Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, and Quentin Tarantino of filmmakers raised on movies, but who still have something vital to say. Anderson's Magnolia shows us a group of people in the San Fernando Valley who are lost and looking for something. Thanks to Divine intervention, they all find it.

Magnolia roughly follows the format of Robert Altman's Nashville (1975) and Short Cuts (1993) (both movies that were mentioned in reviews of Anderson's last movie, Boogie Nights). A huge group of characters, played by Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards, and Melora Walters, just to name a few, wander around, sometimes interconnecting, sometimes not.

The center of the movie is perhaps Robards, who is dying of cancer. Julianne Moore plays his young bride who married for money but found love too late. Hoffman plays Robards' male nurse who tracks down his lost son (Cruise). The two other major stories concern a child genius (Stanley Spector) who is shopped around from quiz show to quiz show, and a lonely cop (Reilly) who falls for a lonely junkie (Walters). As in the Altman movies, an event occurs near the end to tie everyone together and offer perspective on their lives.

When I first saw Boogie Nights I enjoyed it, but I was reluctant to give it the high praise it deserved. It seemed trapped in a movie world. It was vibrant and joyous, but never seeemed to crack free. Only later as I re-thought it did I realize how much I liked it. Magnolia may have the same effect. It starts out with the same energy as Boogie Nights but slows down over the next two hours (it runs just over three hours). This pace follows the mental state of the characters, who are in control as the movie starts. The camera swoops and jumps and slams us around. Then as they begin to realize that they're not in control, the movie slows down and wanders a bit. Then as it gets to the point when you think that nothing can possibly bring things together again, BAM. I won't give away the ending, because it made my jaw drop.

Anderson ties his movie together with a bunch of excellent songs by Aimee Mann (formerly of 'Til Tuesday). At one point, all the characters are literally stopped in their tracks and are all singing along with one song, bringing them together emotionally and thematically. I don't even need to mention the strength of the performances in Magnolia. Tom Cruise especially stuns because he is so far out of his normal realm. But Hoffman, Moore, and Robards at least deserve mention as well.

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