Volume 93, Issue x
Wednesday, March 18, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Story brings Magnolia to full bloom
Photo by Peter Sorel
By Anthony Turow
Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia is an ambitious, audacious film which, in addition to its visually dazzling effects, has its heart in the right place.
The film unfolds in a number of different vignettes, each one chronicling characters over the course of a particularly rainy day in southern California. Their stories deal with themes of loss, regret and redemption common themes when addressing Anderson's style.
Like his previous film, Boogie Nights, Magnolia has a visual concept which is highly stylized, yet remarkably assured. For all the dazzling tricks he employs, the most impressive of which is a number of phenomenal long takes, he never lets the stylistic touches interfere with the emotional core of the film. The characters are the backbone of the film and their stories are what makes the movie work.
The film's ensemble cast is extraordinary most surprising is Tom Cruise. As Frank T.J. Mackey, a motivational speaker who preaches a "Seduce and Destroy" curriculum to men who have no luck with women, he exudes slimy charisma. His macho posturing and misogynist diatribes are initially hilarious and calculated, painting him as a man completely driven by the id. However, as the film proceeds, his impenetrable veneer is chipped away until he's as vulnerable as those around him. The balance Cruise brings to his performance is remarkably consistent, making his character's catharsis believable and heart-wrenching.
As Donny Smith, a former children's quiz show champ, William H. Macy turns in another interestingly quirky performance. Struck by lightning several years after his 15 minutes of fame, he's now what many people would call a loser. His pathetic demeanor is constantly plagued by regret and self-pity. The transition from a boob to a sympathetic character is a testament to Macy's versatility.
The fine ensemble also includes Julianne Moore as a depressed gold-digging wife and John C. Reilly as an awkward cop in love. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a soft spoken male nurse and Philip Baker Hall portrays a game show host with some serious skeletons in his closet.
Anderson's juggling of all these characters is admirable, given the size of the canvas he's allowed himself to work on. At over three hours the film never drags or wears out its welcome. Just enough time is given to each story to keep the audience interested and entertained.
The only gripe some may have with the film is its lack of a cohesive ending. The stories don't culminate in a contrived fashion at the conclusion, but that's just fine. As the narration at the beginning emphasizes, this is a film more concerned with coincidence and how things happen not how they conclude.
In spite of this, Magnolia doesn't go out with a whimper. It has, quite possibly, one of the strangest, most awe-inspiring finales ever seen in a film. It comes as a total surprise which will have viewers questioning whether they loved it or hated it long after they have left the theatre.
I loved it.
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