Magnolia (1999)

You know, I would say I like Paul Thomas Anderson as much as the next guy, but I’m not sure that’s true, given that every film we saw of his after Boogie Nights not only sold out, but basically sold out the extra theater/showing they had to handle the overflow. Even Magnolia, his longest film (3:08 they say but I sorta wonder if that includes ten minutes of credits).

Sore butts: Always good for a larf.
When your butt is sore and you realize you have another hour of movie to go…

While we eschewed There Will Be Blood, because two-and-half-hours of limping is a lot, even when it’s Daniel Day Lewis doing the limping, we bought tickets for this the week in advance and the kids, while hesitant, were willing to give it a shot. Thing is, though, this is a three-hour adrenaline-fueled thrill-ride of drama. PTA has said there’s too much going on and he should have cut it down—a sentiment we all appreciated—but I asked the kids what storyline they would trim to make this shorter, and they couldn’t really think of one.

It was also kind of cool for The Flower, who is reading Exodus (in the Bible, not the Leon Uris thing), and the theme of Magnolia is Exodus 8:2. The Flower has been reading very carefully, raising all the classic questions (like why God hardens the Pharoah’s heart, or what that means, but also trickier ones like who, if any, were heroes of The Rape of Dinah), but she didn’t have Exodus 8:2 handy in her head.

Which is nice, ’cause it’s kind of a spoiler. (In the game show “What Do Kids Know?” an audience member  is waving a sign that reads “Exodus 8:2”, heh.) And it’s a great payoff to the movie, on akin to the “Drainage” scene in There Will Be Blood, but without the 150 minutes of limping preceding it.

And that's a lot of concern.
There’s a lot of concerned Philip Seymour Hoffman, tho’.

There are a bunch of stories: Jason Robards is dying and his wife Julianne Moore is having a hard time coping but nurse Philip Seymour Hoffman is there for him and is trying to connect him with his estranged son (Tom Cruise) who heads an infomercial-driven conference on “seduction”. Robards is a TV producer who produce “What Do Kids Know?” which is hosted by Philip Baker Hall, who has terminal cancer (but no one knows yet), and has been hosting the show for 30 years. A former “quiz kid” (William H. Macy) is struggling in the ruins of his life after winning big on the show 30 years previously, because his parents stole all his winnings, while a new kid is struggling in the ruins of his life because his father is obsessed with breaking that record. Meanwhile, Melora Walters (looking amazingly like Anna Kendrick)  is the coke-sniffing promiscuous daughter who won’t even talk to Hall (for some reason) but sees a chance for love and a kind of normalcy with goofus cop (John C. Reilly), who’s having a hell of a day after finding a dead body in a nearby house. At the climax of the movie, Reilly’s cop and Macy’s middle-aged “quiz kid” meet up, and we find the movie is, after all, about forgiveness.

Everyone’s dealing with the ruins of their lives and the question becomes: What can you forgive? Can you forgive others? Is there a limit? Can you forgive yourself? Can you have a relationship where you’re just straight-up and honest from the get-go, and non-judgmental, so that you’re not trapped in a world of lying, pretense and much worse—all so that maybe you don’t need to give and get forgiveness?

God, after a fashion, gets the final word on the subject, even if it’s just a “coincidence”—another theme of the movie.

Which, hell, I just did, didn't I?
Me, struggling to NOT make a Lebowski reference.

There is so much acting in this film, it’s ridiculous. PTA does this thing where the camera just stays on one actor, maybe with a slow dollying in. I mean, over minutes. They’re the sort of shots you take when doing a two-shot, where you get one actor talking, then a reverse shot to the actor talking, but PTA just leaves them on the one character and lets that mofo act.

For Cruise, it’s up with Rain Man in terms of his performance. It’s much less subtle than that overlooked bit of work, and it has a huge range, as his character goes from a angry/happy glibness, to just cold anger, to grief, etc. But everyone’s great. Well, maybe not Jason Robards, but just because he’s unconscious most of the time (and only had a year or so left to live to boot).

RECOGNIZE ME, YOU SONOFABITCHES!
Robards might’ve been going for an Oscar anyway, as these late-in-life-actors will.

I additionally loved it, of course, because Magnolia Boulevard is the central location of all the stories. My kids don’t know the city well enough, but we were sitting about a mile from Laurel Canyon and Magnolia, and—well, it’s just part of the larger area I consider “my neighborhood”.

A lot of Aimee Mann. At one point, all the characters are singing, in their own separate shots, the same Aimee Mann song. It’s just ballsy. Jon Brion provides a great traditional score at the various points that aren’t Mann singing, it adds a lot though it’s easy to overlook.

And it’s, seriously, about an hour of nailbiting drama, with a short break, followed by another even more intense hour. It’s really intense. Lotta swearing, though. George C. Scott turned it down because of all the f***ing swearing. The Boy and The Flower were enthusiastic.

Not so funny now, eh?
Macy with the late, great Henry Gibson—only 64 here but looking kinda older.

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