"One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do..." I sing that song while writing this review. “One” by Aimee Mann may be one of so many things I loved from “Magnolia”, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Laugh at me: this is the first time I watch any of his works. While I so eagerly wanted to watch his latest movie, “The Master” (but until now I haven’t got a chance to watch it), I got a recommendation by Nugrosinema to watch “Magnolia”, which he considered as the masterpiece of Anderson. So, I try it. And I agree that it is a very nice movie and attracting me to watch more of his work.
“Magnolia” is actually a wrap of several different stories, but I can’t say it’s an anthology because the stories are interrelated to each other, making it a movie with a single grand plot instead of separated fragments. Frank T.J. Mackey (played by Tom Cruise) is a public-speaker with a program called “Seduce and Destroy” which motivates men to use women for sex. Claudia Wilson (played by Melora Walters) is a troubled woman and a cocaine addict. Jim Kurring (played by John C. Reilly) is a religious, self-managed, and discipline police officer. Jimmy Gator (played by Philip Baker Hall) owns a popular quiz show on TV called “What Do Kids Know?”, while Stanley (played by Jeremy Blackman) is a genius kid and a long-running contestant of that show—seemingly being too pushed by his dad (played by Michael Bowen). Donnie Smith (played by William H. Macy), well-known as The Quiz Kid since he won Jimmy’s quiz show when he was a kid, has just fired from his work. Phil Pharma (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is an in-charge male caretaker who takes care of Earl Partridge (played by Jason Robards) in his house, while Linda Partridge (played by Julianne Moore), Earl’s wife, is so depressed seeing her husband dying. These characters melts into a surprising correlation of each other and ends into a deep conclusion of faith and hope.
The movie is opened with a brief story that implies what the rest of the plot will talk about. A resident of Greenberry Hill was murdered by three vagrants named Green, Berry, and Hill. A blackjack dealer who went scuba-diving in a lake was swept into a firefighting plane whose pilot was a guy who had a fight with him on the casino two days ago. A teenager attempted suicide by jumping off the roof of his apartment, and when he passed the window of the apartment, he accidentally got shot by a gun his mom used when she was arguing with his dad. What is the similarity of these three stories? Coincidence. Yeah, coincidence is a topic that connect the ensemble characters into a great, interesting story. Coincidence is what makes “Magnolia” goes more than just a drama with a plot. It encourages thought, positively inspires, and emotionally moves. The characters start from their own points and move creating lines that intersect beautifully, and while the overlapping story-lines seem walking their own paths, they are actually gathered under a big theme: seeking hope and self-introspection. That’s why, “Magnolia” is not a story that you can easily tell because it’s more to be a cinematic and emotional experience rather than simply a movie with interesting plot. Concerning to this, viewers and critics are split into two side opinions of “Magnolia”. Some critics said that it is brilliant and original, while the rest said it is ambitious, complicated, and goalless. I do see ambition in “Magnolia” (look, combining different characters with their own problems into a grand, interrelating plot was a tough job to do), but I also see success. I easily catch what “Magnolia” tries to transfer to the viewers, I see beauty in its every scene, and although there are no brief and clear conclusions of each problems from every character, we are served with a greater resolution that doesn’t specifically solve each problem but unimaginably relieves any complications this movie has in its every edge.
Another thing that makes “Magnolia” is great for me is the character development. Every character has almost similar portion of focus and mood, and each develops and accumulates into a bigger, natural conflict that relieves so beautifully with supportive music playing in the background. There’s a taste of musical in “Magnolia” (I just love the soundtracks, especially Aimee Mann’s “One” and “Wise Up”), and there’s charm from the camera work that brings nice dynamics and settles mood in every scene. The long-take Anderson did in, for example, the preparation of the quiz show is unforgettable. From the acting department, all the actors did similarly great jobs, but Tom Cruise notably played the character whom viewers paid most attention to. “Magnolia” is one of few movies where you can see great acting by Tom Cruise. Seriously, it’s kind of rare lately seeing this guy playing great role with great acting in a movie. “Magnolia” is where Tom Cruise proved to the viewers that he could act, and he deserved his Oscar nomination for his great job. Anyway, “Magnolia” has a great ensemble cast. Every character provokes different reactions from the viewers. Maybe there are minor conflicts that seem either too sudden or unfinished, like [SPOILER STARTS] the conflict Jimmy had with his wife, Rose (played by Melinda Dillon), which is placed too close to the ending so it didn’t successfully got larger attention, or the conflict Stanley had with his quiz assistant, which seems awkwardly ended and discontinued [SPOILER ENDS]. Anderson tries to make derivations from the development of each character by bringing more characters to every character’s problem, but, in very few occurences, it fails.
Finally, Paul Thomas Anderson turned “Magnolia” into a movie that is more than just any other dramas. I admit that it is not something viewer could easily enjoy, but once you feel it, you will understand why three-hour duration of this movie went so fast for me. After watching “Magnolia”, it’s yours to interpret the story, even what the title “Magnolia” actually means. It’s great—the final scene was undoubtedly mindf*ck—and ambitious. I won’t say that it is one-of-a-kind, but it really grabs my full attention. "It’s not going to stop... so just give up".
▲ Outstanding work of combining several stories into a grand plot, supportive background music, Tom Cruise, great ensemble cast
▼ May seem weird and goalless, unsuccessful minor conflicts
MAGNOLIA | COUNTRY USA YEAR 1999 RATING Rated R for strong language, drug use, sexuality and some violence RUNTIME 188 min GENRE Drama CAST Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly WRITER Paul Thomas Anderson DIRECTOR Paul Thomas Anderson IMDB RATING 8.0/10 METACRITIC 77/100 (Generally Favorable) ROTTEN TOMATOES 83% (Certified Fresh) MORE INFO