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Magnolia Review

Paul Thomas Anderson created a thing of beauty with Magnolia. Stringing together the lives of many individuals into a portrait of loneliness, Magnolia uses multiple narratives to expose that empty space inside each and every one of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re speaking to an auditorium filled with chauvinistic men eager to learn secrets to scoring more sex or working a solitary beat as a California police officer, you can still feel alone. Having both written and directed this requiem for the human condition, Anderson takes aim at different personalities and how they intentionally or accidentally alienate themselves to nights spent alone. Whatever the angle of a unique character, chances are they mirror at least one or two others in the film. Chances are. With loneliness, chance is perhaps the greatest theme to be found in Magnolia.

Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise) teaches men to dominate women. Phil Pharma (Philip Seymour Hoffman) manages the hospice care for the dying Earl (Jason Robards). Meanwhile, Earl’s trophy wife Linda (Julianne Moore) traipses about town securing the drugs needed to send Earl off in a painless daze. Donnie (William H. Macy), who gained fame at an early age for being the ‘Quiz Kid’, hates his job and has an obsession with braces thanks to local bartender Brad (who also has them, yet still charms the ladies). Stanley (Jeremy Blackman) is currently living Donnie’s youth as the hotshot contestant on a quiz show where kids and adults square off under the guidance of host Jimmy (Philip Baker Hall), whose fight with cancer and marital indiscretions affect his daily life. In the middle of everything, Jimmy’s daughter Claudia (Melora Walters) finds herself the object of attention for lonely police officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly).

Each of them is alone. Each of them longs for something to change their lives for the better. For some it’s reconciliation with a loved one and for most it’s human contact, closeness with someone else spinning in the void. Frank sleeps with women, crowds himself with adoring men, but never once has an instant of vulnerability before any of them. Officer Kurring tends to the calls of public disturbances and consequently spends his days talking with people all day long – but none of them ever connect, their reactions are always violent and angry. Boy genius Stanley sits apart from his friends at school and remains aloof even from the other kids on the quiz team; his father, a starving actor, can’t begin to relate to the wunderkind he produced.

The sorrow produced in Magnolia builds with every cut. Anderson’s weaving between similar stories of lost connection and failing facades make Magnolia one of those rare beautiful opuses that boast incredible talent, storytelling and emotion. Before Reilly buried himself in a slew of comic roles, he was throwing himself entirely into one dramatic film after another – this might be his finest of those. Similarly, this was the film that made me say, out loud during the film (when I saw it in theaters a decade ago), “Philip Seymour Hoffman is incredible.” It was the first film where he really had the chance to go all out (screw you, Patch Adams). Julianne Moore’s breakdown monologue also deserves mention. It might be crass at points, but it’s filled with self-loathing and humanity in ways that few performances ever come close.

Anderson serves up a film packed with cameo appearances and every single one of them is notable. Among the supporting members are Alfred Molina, April Grace, Luis Guzman, Felicity Huffman, Orlando Jones, Neil Flynn and Thomas Jane. It may sound weird to say this, considering it clocks in at just over three hours, but Magnolia wastes neither time nor talent. Watch it over and over again and marvel at the recurring patterns and character traits and how they weave together. It’s not entirely perfect, but it’s one of the closest approximations to have come out of the 1990s.

Magnolia looks sublime on Blu-ray. The style really benefits from the increased resolution and the film can finally be seen for the masterpiece it is. Again, it’s a tremendous looking film on Blu-ray.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The disc sports the trailer and (I think) all the TV spots for the film (which is a good number) as well as a music video for Aimee Mann’s “Save Me”. If you’re disappointed by a lack of an audio commentary for the film (I was), then you’ll find a little bit of satisfaction in the 72-minute candid video diary segments covering the film’s production at different stages, with P.T. Anderson front and center for most of them. It’s not a three-hour commentary, but it’s something. Closing out the disc is a collection of the scenes from Frank Mackey’s seminar as well as the promotional commercial for his “service”.

"Magnolia" is on sale January 19, 2010 and is rated R. Drama. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Alfred Molina, John C Reilly, Julianne Moore, Luis Guzman, Melora Walters, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Cruise, William H Macy, Jeremy Blackman, Jason Robards.

Jan
18
2010
Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.

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