Magnolia (1999) / Drama

MPAA Rated: R for strong language, drug use, sexuality, and some violence
Running Time: 188 min.

Cast: Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, William H, Macy, Philip Baker Hall, Jason Robards, Alfred Molina, Melora Walters, Michael Bowen, Ricky Jay, Jeremy Blackman, Luis Guzman, Henry Gibson, Felicity Huffman, Orlando Jones, Michael Murphy, Thomas Jane (cameo), Veronica Hart (cameo)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson
Review published September 12, 2000

Without a doubt, Magnolia is my personal pick for best film of 1999, and if it weren't or The Shawshank Redemption, I'd say it was the best film of the 1990s.  No, it wasn't nominated for an Academy Award, and with weaker films like The Sixth Sense and Cider House Rules making the cut, it's truly a great shame.  Perhaps Magnolia isn't on everyone's list, as it's a hell of a bitter pill, dealing with cancer, death and the unloved.  However, within the tale of Magnolia is something better, more motivational and inspiring beneath the surface that says, "Learn from our mistakes".

Magnolia employs interweaving storylines involving several people through the course of the three hour movie.  Jimmy Gator (Hall, The Insider) is the host of the longest running game show, "What Do Kids Know" and is dying of cancer.  His daughter, Claudia (Walters, Boogie Nights) , refuses to speak with him any longer, and she's also a junkie who sleeps with strange men.  Claudia is visited by Jim (Reilly, For the Love of the Game), a lonely cop who takes a liking to her.  Stanley (Blackman, Crown Heights) is a child prodigy on the Gator's game show, who feels like a freak due to everyone telling him what to do.  Donnie (Macy, Mystery Men) is the child prodigy from the show's past, who pissed his life away because he couldn't live up to everyone's expectations.  Earl Partridge (Robards, Quick Change) is the show's producer, and he too is dying of cancer.  His wife Linda (Moore, The End of the Affair) married him for his money, but comes to realize she loves him very much, unlike Earl's estranged son Frank (Cruise, Eyes Wide Shut), who now sells motivational speeches on how to seduce women.  And everyone is very, very unhappy.

The movie Hard Eight debuted an unknown talent named Paul Thomas Anderson.  Boogie Nights put his name into the spotlight as an up and coming talent.  Magnolia now puts him among the elite filmmakers in Hollywood today.  With a profound knack for the visual and emotional, with heavy doses of bitter truths and biting comedy, Anderson weaves Magnolia into a fine tapestry of misery and hope, not afraid to plunge into the surreal and biblical to address the issues at heart.  There are a lot of directors out there, and only a few dare to be different.  NPerhaps no other could be one as successful as Anderson in turning pure guts and bravado into a work of greatness as Magnolia.

I suppose I've given enough adulation for P.T.  The powerhouse performances by the stars are also worth raving over.  Tom Cruise -- outstanding.  Jason Robards -- outstanding.  Philip Seymour Hoffman -- outstanding.  Julianne Moore -- outstanding.  There isn't a bad actor anywhere in the bunch.  With actors of this quality, it would seem easy to make a decent movie, but this is not just a decent movie, and it certainly isn't easy.

Still, it isn't for the great performances or the virtuoso style of its writer-director that makes it my choice for best picture of 1999.  There is one quality that sets it above all others -- the film has a soul.  There is an inspired, living entity that permeates every scene that wants to speak to us, to deliver a message.  The film doesn't want to entertain for three hours.  It doesn't want to give us our money's worth.  It doesn't try to garner Oscars for it's makers (there is no lead actor or actress to give Oscars to).  It wants our attention and does everything it can to hold it for 188 minutes.  Like the characters in the film, it feels it's important to get all those things we keep hidden out in the open for our perusal and judgment.  It doesn't beg for our approval.  Rather, it wants to change us, to make us better people.  It demands we look at these pathetic lives, and examine our own.  Like the little genius in the film, the film wants us to treat each other better.  It wants to save us from ourselves.

Magnolia isn't going to change the world, not by a long shot.  It's also not going to be able to speak to everybody.  As a matter of fact, most conventional moviegoers may find it too weird or depressing to take.  However, for those in tune with what the film is about, perhaps it's a film that can change a life.  While the fact that it isn't ashamed to pull out all stops trying is commendable, the fact that it succeeds so brilliantly at it is testament of its greatness.

One of the best films I've ever seen.

Qwipster's rating

©2000 Vince Leo