Magnolia (1999)

Synopsis: An epic mosaic of interrelated characters in search of love, forgiveness, and meaning in the San Fernando Valley.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: This has long been one of my favorite films, but it’s really hard to talk about or convince someone else to see because of the long run-time and huge cast of characters/plotlines… a perfect candidate for the project.

Brent’s Review:

“Magnolia” is Paul Thomas Anderson’s third feature film and, in his own words, is “…for better or worse, the best movie [he’ll] ever make.”

“Magnolia” is a monstrously epic drama set in San Fernando valley with an unbelievable amount of plot coincidences and conveniences, which would cause any other film to sink under the weight of incredulity. However, the film begins with a seven-to-eight minute mini-movie recounting three short urban legends that are surely pure acts of coincidence… but could they possibly be just coincidence? Once the film lures you into a suspension of disbelief, suddenly it seems plausible that 10+ strangers in the San Fernando Valley might actually, maybe have some connection.

Each character’s story is unique, ranging from an angry son reconciling with his dying father to a police officer falling for a drug addict and many others in between. The strength of this film is in the way each character’s struggles are manifested in different and unique scenarios; “Magnolia” is not a reflection on how love is impacted by external forces, but instead on how love impacts – and in some ways defines – one’s scope of reality. Every player in this story acts out of character as they all seek to give, receive, or find love in their lives.

I’ve seen every Paul Thomas Anderson film with the exceptions of “Hard Eight” and “Inherent Vice.” I disagree with his sentiment that this is the best movie he’ll ever make (my personal favorite is “There Will Be Blood”), but “Magnolia” showcases his virtuosic talents in directing and, in particular, getting phenomenal performances out of every single actor. There is only one other film I can think of that has an ensemble performance as good as “Magnolia” and that’s “The Departed”, which features a cast filled with Oscar winners and nominees. The amazing feat PTA accomplishes with this cast is that it is primarily comprised of career supporting actors and, in some cases, actors whose only credited role is “Magnolia.”

Typically, I’m not a fan of movies with 3-hr runtimes – that’s a huge time commitment, I think. However, “Magnolia” is one of the few 3-hr movies that I could watch any time because it features so many magnificent tracking and dolly shots – and long takes! – that no scene is ever boring. PTA’s energy and passion is very apparent throughout the film. The film’s soundtrack consistently complements his direction as well, including a long take featuring Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger” that inspired me to attempt writing screenplays in high school.

All in all, “Magnolia” is an incredibly hard film to talk about. Even if I were to highlight Tom Cruise’s amazing performance as “Frank T.J. Mackey” (disclaimer: I’m not a Cruise fan, but he nails this role), I feel like I’m doing a disservice to John C. Reilly’s excellent “Jim Kurrig”. And even if I highlight a performance, I’m neglecting the ending, which comes out of nowhere and… yeah, it’s memorable.

In short, see “Magnolia.” It is very much worth your time.

Leah’s Review:

When a film has a runtime of over three hours- I get a little nervous. Taking three hours to watch a movie is quite a commitment and there is always the fear that it not be worth my time. But when you become so absorbed in a movie’s storyline that you completely forget about time or how long you’ve been watching, that’s usually a sign of a well-made film. This was certainly the case for “Magnolia”. From the moment I started watching it, I was instantly engrossed in the lives of the characters and their varied stories- the movie never once feels “long”.

“Magnolia” shows the lives of a handful of very different individuals (who are also strangers at the start of the film) over a 24-hour period. Close in proximity- but seemingly not connected, we see these characters going through a variety of struggles- some of which are similar to other characters’ struggles or share common themes. Their stories are “brought together” (although not always through in-person interactions) through the commonalities of their lives and the events that affect them all in some way. One event that brings these characters together (which I will not spoil) requires some suspension of belief. This film is not of the fantasy genre, but it does- as Roger Ebert says of the film- require us to “leave logic at the door”.

“Magnolia’s” strengths lie in two areas: the way the storylines are woven together (as I mentioned above) and the performances of its actors. Tom Cruise, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, and John C. Reilly are just some of the actors on the billing and there isn’t one bad performance in the whole movie. I particularly enjoyed Hoffman’s performance as a dedicated and sensitive hospice nurse, Reilly- who plays a sincere and compassionate cop (a role that is both endearing and a change of pace from his usual comedic characters), and Cruise- who I am usually unimpressed with, but gives a commanding and emotional performance (which got him a well-deserved oscar nomination).

So what is Magnolia about? That’s hard to say. Themes of coincidence, connectedness, family, loneliness, and forgiveness are all at the forefront of this film. But I’m not sure there is a concrete “takeaway” from this film. Rather, I believe “Magnolia” is a tool to show us the complexities of the human experience and human relationships.

All that being said, I enjoyed “Magnolia” immensely and would gladly take another three hours out of my day to watch it again.

Up next: We’ll be watching a classic of horror cinema: George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”.

Peace out, kids.


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