PG Cooper’s Movie of the Month: Magnolia (1999)

Posted: June 29, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Movie of the Month

Let me start off by saying I love “Movie of the Month”. It’s not exactly the most original idea, but it’s a lot of fun, encourages me to review movies I don’t normally have a chance to, and allows me to highlight films that I find truly great. But now, each month I found myself challenged with picking a new “Movie of the Month”. There are plenty of movies I could pick, but it’s always hard to narrow it down to one. Sometimes I see a movie that I just have an urge to discuss (Jacob’s Ladder, In The Loop). Sometimes I’m in the mood to re-watch and discuss an old favourite (Collateral, The Bridge on the River Kwai). And sometimes, outside forces influence me to discuss a certain film (The Godfather Part II, A Clockwork Orange). This month, it’s one of those “outside forces” times. See, a few weeks ago I watched Boogie Nights for the first time (which was awesome). This, in combination with the new promotional material for The Master (which looks awesome) got me thinking about writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. And when I think PTA, I think Magnolia.

Release date: December 25th, 1999

Running time: 3 hours and 9 minutes

Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Jeremy Blackman, Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards, and Melora Walters

Magnolia follows nine different people in Los Angeles, and explores their stories. There is the story of the dying millionaire (Jason Robards) trying to use his nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to find his estranged son (Tom Cruise) before he dies. There is the story of the millionaire’s gold digger wife (Julianne Moore), who begins to fall in love with him as he’s dying. There is the story of a dying game show host (Phlip Baker Hall) trying to reconnect with his daughter (Melora Walters), who is in love with a hapless police officer (John C. Reilly). There is the story of the game show contestant, a young boy genius (Jeremy Blackman) under tremendous pressure from his father. Finally, there is the story of a former boy genius (William H. Macy) trying to find love. And as the trailer says, “This will all make sense in the end.”

Did that plot description sound confusing? Sorry about that, but there is a lot going on in Magnolia. All of the stories  Paul Thomas Anderson creates are great. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re sad, but they’re always interesting. Despite what you may think, the storylines in Magnolia are not nearly as convoluted as it seems. Anderson’s brilliant script takes so many stories and seamlessly weaves them together. All of these stories do come together in literal ways, but the focus is more on the themes and motifs that run through every story. These themes include loneliness, damaged relationships, the sins of the father, the pressures of greatness, coincidence, the past, and love. I don’t want to elaborate on these themes too much, because discovering them is one of the films treats. Though there are several stories, at its core, Magnolia is one story. One story about several lonely people just trying to find some happiness in the world.

Another area that Anderson’s script excels in is dialogue. Magnolia is full of memorable lines that I think will stick with me forever. “It is not dangerous to confuse children with angels,” “What am I doing? I’m quietly judging you,” and “Now that I’ve met you, would you object to never seeing me again?” being some of my personal favourites. The characters conversations also feel very real and alive. There’s a natural way the people talk in Magnolia, particularly in the way their sentences cut into each other and overlap. The casualness almost reminds me of what Tarantino does with his dialogue, except Anderson’s is far more subtle. It’s a good thing Anderson can write dialogue as well as he does too. Large portions of this movie are just characters talking. But the dialogue is so good (along with the acting and staging) that it’s just as exciting as an action scene.

What stands out the most in Magnolia is the incredible cast of characters. Though the entire cast is phenomenal, the nine protagonists truly stand out. Tom Cruise delivers one of the most engaging and certainly most energetic performances in the film as Frank T.J. Mackey, a sexist who hosts seminars on how to pick up woman, hilariously titled, “Seduce and Destroy”. Cruise provides a lot of the film’s biggest laughs, but as the film progresses, it’s revealed that Frank has a very dark past. I felt so much sympathy for his character by the end. The way Cruise slowly transitions from sexist pig to tortured soul and is seamless and breathtaking. John C. Reilly, known for some of the stupid comedies he’s done recently, gives one of my favourite performances as Officer Jim Kurring. What I like about Jim is that, unlike a lot of the other characters, Jim doesn’t have a traumatic past, nor is he in a terrible situation. He’s just a really incompetent at his job and he’s kind of lonely. You can tell he’s trying in life, but he’s just not terribly good at it. There’s a real honesty and sadness to Reilly’s performance that I enjoy. Philip Seymour Hoffman probably has the least developed character of the nine. All we really know about him is that he’s a nurse, and that he’s lonely. In spite of that, Hoffman’s performance is so powerful that he becomes one of the most endearing characters in the film. I could go on singing the praises of the cast, but since brevity is the soul of wit, I’ll stop here. I will say Jeremy Blackman, Philip Baker Hall, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, Jason Robards, and Melora Walters all deliver excellent, Oscar worthy performances.

One of my favourite aspects of Magnolia is the music. Now, there are two parts to this. The first part is the original score composed by Jon Brion. Brion’s score has a very theatrical feel to it. It’s a score that feels big, and helps to drive the momentum of the film. It’s also a very poignant and emotional score. The more I listen to it, the more I enjoy it. In fact it annoys me that Brion’s score received zero love from the Academy. The second part, is the music from singer/guitarist Aimee Mann. Some of the songs from Mann were written previously, some were written specifically for the film. Some are Mann originals, some are cover songs. But every Aimee Mann song in the film is awesome. All of them. The music is incorporated into the film flawlessly and the lyrics reflect the themes of the film very well. Noteworthy tracks include “One”, “Momentum”, “Wise Up”, and the Oscar nominated “Save Me”.

 

This was Paul Thomas Anderson’s third film, and he directs with confidence. On a technical level, the direction is perfect. There are some marvellous shots, the editing is great, and Anderson gets brilliant performances out of his actors. This is also a very stylish film and you can really tell Anderson had his heart in it. I also applaud Anderson for having the courage to take risks. Magnolia does plenty of unexpected and daring things most movies would never dare try. These include a brilliant opening scene of three stories completely unrelated (in a literal sense) to the rest of the film, and an iconic scene of wonder in the third act. I won’t spoil the specifics of these scenes, but both are unforgettable. Anderson has also gone on record claiming that he feels Magnolia is the best film he’ll ever make. This seems likely since it is the best film he’s made so far. Now I do want to point out that I haven’t seen Punch-Drunk Love, so it’s possible that I might prefer it to Magnolia, but I highly doubt it. I’ve seen all of Anderson’s other efforts though. I think Hard Eight is a solid crime thriller, and I love Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood. But as great as those films are, I’d still rank Magnolia above the both of them.

I suppose you might wonder why Magnolia means so much to me at all. Well, there are two main reasons I hold the film in such high esteem. First off, the film is an example of perfect filmmaking. It’s a rare film where every element converges together flawlessly. As a film fan/critic, I appreciate this. Second, I just find the film extremely moving, touching, and thought-provoking. It’s not everyday a film affects me as profoundly as Magnolia does. It’s also one of those movies that gets me excited about the potential of what film can accomplish.

To put Magnolia’s greatness in perspective, the film came out in 1999, which some film critics consider the greatest year in cinema history, and with good reason. Sam Mendes made his first film, the Best Picture winning American Beauty. The world was introduced to the genius of director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman with Being John Malkovich. Pixar created an excellent sequel in Toy Story 2, while M. Night Shyamalan was being called the next Hitchcock (lol) after The Sixth Sense. The Wachowskis made the best action film in years with The Matrix, while the controversial Eyes Wide Shut would become the last film from the legendary Stanley Kubrick. Finally, David Fincher would make the stylistic, thematic, yet under-appreciated Fight Club, which in a few years would become known as a classic. Indeed, it was a year full of cinematic achievement and excitement. And Magnolia represents the best of the bunch (excluding Eyes Wide Shut, which I haven’t seen, and thus won’t comment on). Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of these movies, particularly The Matrix and Fight Club, but I feel Magnolia is an overall superior film. Given the year it came out, it would be easy for Magnolia to get lost in the shuffle of great films. Instead, it’s leading the pack.

Magnolia has its critics. It’s been called too long, weird, convoluted, and pretentious. These people are entitled to their opinions, but to those who haven’t seen it, I implore you to ignore the naysayers. Magnolia, is an ambitious, daring film. It tackles big themes, has an incredible script, and an excellent cast. It’s one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen and a personal favourite. In fact, it’s probably my favourite movie I’ve ever reviewed for the site. Magnolia is a true masterpiece in every way.

“Strange things happen all the time.”

Rating: A+

 

 

Aliens (added January 27th, 2012)

The Bridge on the River Kwai (added April 28th, 2012)

A Clockwork Orange (added December 19th, 2011)

Collateral (added September 29th, 2011)

The Godfather Part II (added March 29th, 2012)

In The Loop (added November 26th, 2011)

Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2 (added February 27th, 2012)

Leon: The Professional (added May 31st, 2012)

Magnolia (added June 29th, 2012)

Comments
  1. Magnolia is my favorite movie! I always get that faraway look from people when asked what my favorite movie is & I answer. My tattoo in my pic is the magnolia from the poster. You did an excellent write-up of the film, it’s difficult to capture the essence of the movie without giving aspects away. I always tell people it’s an interwoven story with an amazing ensemble cast which depicts the “everyday” trials & tribulations of the characters through a series of moving vignettes which come together like a tapestry at the end. I tell them it’s long & quirky, but to watch it & stick with it because it will be worth it in the end. You mentioned all the things which make the movie so wonderful: the writing, the music, Cruise & the other fabulous actors…they all just work together! A wonderful movie to highlight!

    • well, it was supposed to sign in with my facebook pic, which is where the magnolia pic is lol!

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      The fact that you have a tattoo of the Magnolia flower is beyond awesome. It’s good to here someone love Magnolia so much because it is a truly brilliant film. It isn’t my favourite film of all time, but it’s certainly up there. Thanks for the kind words. You’ll likely be the biggest Magnolia fan to read this post, so if I pleased you, then I must have done an okay job :)

  2. vinnieh says:

    Wow excellent review, haven’t seen the film in ages I need to watch it again after reading your descriptive and very interesting post.

  3. For me, Punch-Drunk Love is PTA’s best, and one of my all-time favorites.

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