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Is it two stories or one? Is it nine main characters, or two? In a film that intersects and exposes the lives of nine different people who are somehow interconnected as they live out their lives in individual yet parallel fashion. "Magnolia's" intensely unique vision and surprising conclusion only strengthen a storyline that slowly unwraps and folds in on itself over the span of three hours until, in the end, all the main characters find themselves suddenly on the same page.
Written and directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Rated: R for strong language, drug use, sexuality, and some violence.
Tagline: "Sometimes its more than just coincidence."
Perhaps the testament to MAGNOLIA'S vision is that the plot itself is so intensely difficult to summarize. On a surface level "MAGNOLIA" exposes and develops the intricacies of nine different lives. But on a deeper level there are overtones and taboos running through the film that at times make the film feel like nine, two, and even one story about something much larger than the general picture. In short, "MAGNOLIA" follows the lives of nine people in the San Fernando Valley during a twenty-four hour period that precludes a tumultuous ending. But the question remains, do all these lives revolve around the making of a TV game show "What Do Kids Know", or do the lives revolve around the story of two fathers with estranged children and broken marriages? The answer is both.
Intensely insecure on the inside, egomaniac on the outside, Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) is the estranged son of father Earl Partridge, producer of the TV quiz show "What Do Kids Know", hosted by Jimmy Gator, whose daughter, drug-addict Claudia, has estranged herself after a speculative incident in her youth. Moreover, Earl?s trophy wife, Linda, is coping with a mental breakdown as she battles her grief involving the acceptance of her less than honorable intentions of her marriage to Earl previous to his illness. Enter compassionate orderly nurse Phil Parma whose 24 hour mission is to track down Earl's son, the notorious Mackey, in honoring a dying man's final wish. Tying in the plot is former whiz kid "What Do Kids Know" contestant extraordinaire Donnie Smith, whose life twenty years later has taken a turn for the worse. Meanwhile there's a new kid in town, braniac Stanley, newest star of "What Do Kids Know", who is about to crack from all the pressure of being a gifted child; a pressure which stems from his father's insistence on his beating a record set by none other than whiz-kid Donnie himself. As Stanley and his predecessor Donnie struggle for normalcy and social acceptance, in comes stock-clown of the police force, Officer Jim, whose sudden interest in the equally desperate Claudia Gator might be the answer to her long unanswered prayers.
"MAGNOLIA" is a film about coincidence, and yet, not about coincidence. The opening scene frames "MAGNOLIA" with the notion that, though many coincidences do occur in everyday life, on both a minute and grand scale, end the end, there is ultimately some undetected explanation for the intersections of these mere 'coincidences'. Thus goes the storyline of Magnolia. The film weaves the nine characters lives in a tapestry-like fashion of intricate knots and rows whereby each stage of the characters life somehow results in a connecting force that will draw them into the bigger picture being told. Though the story can be analyzed itself from many different angles, and on many different levels of perspective, ultimately, every critic will agree that, despite their opinion on its success or failure, "MAGNOLIA" is attempting to unify with dramatic irony. Nothing could be more definite of this than the final scene, which, in biblical proportions and reference, explains fully the repercussions of mankind's folly and ignorance.
The ending, if nothing else, will take you by complete surprise. Amidst the dramatic suspense of a lengthy portrait is this sublevel tension that is preparing for something bigger than the surface level climax itself. The film's score, dialogue, and cinematography all work together to let the audience know that there is the plot, and then there is the bigger picture. On the surface level there exists the interactions of the nine characters that work to build an obvious climax. But on a deeper level there is a tension between what is and what could be, a sort of paradoxical perspective that resorts back to Exodus 8:2, that will ultimately be the final anti-climax to a film long building tension in its three-hour run. The final scenes take you so much by surprise that at first you can hardly grasp what has happened. Why did the director do this? What does it mean? But at second glance, a composed reflection allows one to correctly, if not personally conceive of the intentions of both the director and the film.
"MAGNOLIA" is an extensively episodic ensemble that allows the different story lines to bounce off one another and resonate throughout its duration so that in the end, the overall effect is one complete, and risky storyline. What could have been disastrous instead proved to be a marvelous endeavor by a brilliantly intuitive mind. Anderson simply got it right, and did it with panache equivalent if not altogether superior to his precursor, 'Boogie Nights'. In that respect, it should be noted that much of the same cast from 'Boogie Nights' makes an encore appearance for Anderson's new film.
"MAGNOLIA" is a creative, risky, entrepreneurial masterpiece that laughs at the prospect of only six-plots by developing nine, and ultimately, in the end, reduces them down to one, more largely unified story. In the story are taboos of coincidence, death, survival, happiness, social acceptance, and many other social values and themes that at times, seem so utterly out of reach for the desperate; "MAGNOLIA" gives you a look at nine of these 'desperate' people, who each choose to fight their battle their own, individually distinct way.
Anderson's mosaic undulates with moments of intense climax/relaxation. Though the final hour does start off slow, the ending quickly speeds things back up and justifies the temporary lull in plot. All the while there is of course intense character development and exposing going on; to both character and audience alike. Nevertheless the ending is altogether unpredictable and will either be an audience's favorite or most hated scene. It could have potentially ruined the movie, it may leave the less introspective critic perplexed. Whatever the personal opinion of the audience, the ending to "MAGNOLIA" will be none other than hugely controversial. But again, this was largely intentional on behalf of Anderson and his creative genius.
So how does Magnolia hold one's attention for so long? Cinematography. Quick snippets, short scenes, and character and plot variation speed the film along rather nicely. At times it may seem as if the film just cuts off mid-scene, but given time, the plot will resurrect itself later, picking up where it left off with sometimes, an altered perspective. Moreover, Anderson's attention to music, particularly that of 'Amie Mann' plays a large part in setting the overtones for the film.
Lastly, the cast of "MAGNOLIA" is superb. Winning an award for Best Supporting Actor by Chicago Film Critics Association Awards and Blockbuster Entertainment, Tom Cruise delivers as well as the rest. The film is tightly knit with sharp deliveries by each actor; the overall effect of which is remarkably realistic and grand. "MAGNOLIA" presents the grandest emotions on the scale's spectrum, and brings them to an audience in a tangible, realistic manner via his production methods, and the performances of his cast.
Though it didn't win an Oscar, "MAGNOLIA" was nominated for two, as well as being nominated for and winning several other film critic awards. It may seem weird upon first glance, unconventional in its methods and plot development, but there is undeniably something about this film that has made it a remarkable feat. May the serious drama lovers worldwide enjoy it in all its glory.
Tom Cruise plays Frank T.J. Mackey, the man whose claim to fame is 'Seduce and Destroy'; a campaign that allows him to hide his insecurities developed as a young boy whose father Earl Partridge, left him to help his mom fight cancer alone.
Julianne Moore plays Linda Partridge, the ailing Earl Partridge's trophy wife who's decision to marry for money has come back to haunt her as Earl lay dying in their home.
William H. Macy plays Donnie Smith; quiz kid extraordinaire whose childhood fame prompted his parents to steal from their own son, leaving him estranged, lonely, and desperate for social acceptance.
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Phil Parma, Earl Partridge's overly compassionate orderly nurse whose inept social skills are overshadowed by his caring heart.
Melora Walters plays Claudia Wilson Gator, the estranged daughter and coke-addict of TV show host Jimmy Gator.
Jeremy Blackman plays Stanley Spector, brainiac wonder whose peers look at him like a freak, and whose father abusively uses his genius to make money.
Jason Robards plays Earl Partridge, "What Do Kids Know" TV show producer who is dying of brain cancer and wishes to see his estranged son Frank Mackey before he passes away.
John C. Reilly plays Jim Kurring, inept cop with an overtly strong social and ethical moral, who instantly falls for the neurotically traumatized Claudia Gator.
Philip Baker Hall plays Jimmy Gator, cancer-stricken host of TV game show "What Do Kids Know" and estranged father of troubled daughter Claudia Gator.