Inbox features items that I have recently purchased or received.
Replay revisits what I've previously seen.
Magnolia happen to be the very film I ever saw in college. I went into the 9pm showing and seeing the faces of the ensemble cast in close up on the giant auditorium screen while an elaborate group of crossing stories are told about a group of people living in Los Angeles, I was enthralled. However, my friend who I'd come to see the film with nudged me and told me it was getting late and he thought it'd be better to turn in. I looked at my watch and it was almost midnight. I hardly noticed the time flying by.
Magnolia is an ensemble film, dealing with a number of characters living in Los Angeles, who are all connected to each other, some loosely and others much closer. The characters we meet are Jim Kurrig (John C. Reilly), a tightly wound police officer; Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), a dying man with many regrets; his unstable young wife, Linda (Julianne Moore), and his in-home nurse, Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman); Earl's son, Frank T.J. Mackie, who runs a seminar on scoring with women (Tom Cruise); cocaine addict Claudia (Melora Walters) who receives a visit from her estranged TV host father, Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), who is dying of cancer; a boy genius contestants on Jimmy's show, Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) and his pushy father Rick (Michael Bowen); and former show champion, Quiz Kid Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), who has money problems.
It's a lot of characters and stories that the movie tries to juggle, which explains why it stretches out to three hours. What Magnolia is successful at is weaving together a tapestry of pain, regret, fear and a desire to make those things better in each of the characters. However, because of the expansiveness of the cast, most of the characters only get limited development and each one can seem a touch shallow as a result. On the other hand, the whole does end up being a little bit more than the sum of its parts, especially as to how the different characters end up relating or influencing each other. All the same, I don't know if Magnolia truly does manage to tell a stronger large story, especially as it's bookended by stories about coincidences and while some of the collisions between the characters do have an affect on each other, I see a lot of them as acting and changing independently, so there's not a lot of dynamism happening here and the coincidental factor doesn't effectively weave itself into the story as a meaningful theme, so it gets lost in the shuffle.
But even where the storywriting can be a little light, Paul Thomas Anderson's direction is quite strong. He captures a lot of close ups of his many actors and gives them lots of room to present their characters. And most of the actors here do a solid job with their characters, imparting what would otherwise be simply written characters with the necessary emotional depth to be convincing. But Anderson also manages an attractive visual component, using close-up framing in such a way as to make the character drama seem grandiose. Also, a level of dynamism is added by a lot of moving cameras.
I also cannot go without mentioning the soundtrack to the film, which is almost integral to the film. The film is woven around a number of Aimee Mann's original songs, which permeate the film both in the soundtrack, but also in the diegetic world of the characters, and includes a surreal point where the characters themselves actually sing along. And her music is absolutely captivating and works so well in the segments of the film where they show up, it's almost as though the movie was written to the songs. The rest of Jon Brion's score also really does a great job of capturing the emotion on screen and, while not subtle, matches the drama of the film well.
When I first saw Magnolia back in the winter of 2000, I was mesmerized by the film. It captured my attention in a way that few three hour films could, but seeing it a second time, I think that the flatness of the characters became a little more apparent and so the end result was much less satisfying than before. However, Anderson's captivating direction and the strong performances by the actors still makes those hours go by and the film manages to provide a strong emotional portrait, even if it's difficult to squeeze a bigger picture out of the mosaic of this film. As such, I think it's still a strong picture worth checking out. 8/10.