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MAGNOLIA

SYNOPSIS:
One day in the San Fernando Valley the lives of a large group of characters intersect; some through direct connections and others through a combination of chance, circumstance and even divine intervention. At the centre is the wealthy Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) who lies dying of cancer and wishing to restore communications with his estranged son, Frank TJ Mackey (Tom Cruise), helped by his male nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Elsewhere, TV quizmaster Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) discovers he is terminally ill and attempts to make peace with his cocaine-addicted daughter Claudia (Melora Walters); 60's TV quizkid Donnie Smith (William H Macy) faces ruin as his salesman's job at an electronics store hangs in the balance; Frank, a female seduction expert, is confronted by his family's broken past during a TV interview; and the under-achieving father, Rick Spector (Michael Bowen), lives vicariously through his genius son, Stanley (Jeremy Blackman), the kid poised for stardom on the quiz show hosted by Jimmy Gator. During this day, which climaxes in a bizarre natural phenomenon as night falls, the lives of each character will be significantly affected by the interconnecting events.

"This film could well have been titled Flawed Fathers - and perhaps it should have been, thereby giving some cohesive sense of what the major subtext is, and at the same time doing away with what otherwise is an inscrutable title. Two of the three flawed fathers we meet are dying and anxious to repent their sins, desperate for forgiveness, one from his daughter and wife, the other from his son and his wife. The third, the quiz show whizzkid's father, is a miserable and selfish little sod. The seduction-lecturing Frank TJ Mackey (Tom Cruise) is virulently mysogynistic - with a twist: see below. Two of the other significant adult male characters are a well meaning but dense and bumbling cop, the other a dysfunctional ex-quiz show success, unable to find himself. The only male character on a positive note is the male nurse who tries to reunite the dying Partridge with his estranged son, Frank. I suspect this is the voice of Anderson-the-healer, which he achieves through the cathartic writing and the weak smile he plants on young Claudia's face at the film's conclusion. She, like all the women, is emotionally damaged - by the men. You could almost picket this movie for being man-hating propaganda of the worst kind, articulated in several ways, especially by Frank, who has lines like "Men are shit." But here's the twist: when he says that, he says it to a men's group, who have gathered to learn from him how to score one night stands. And when he says it as a condemnation used by women, the meaning is doubled back on itself, since, as we later discover, Frank's misogyny is grounded in his FATHER'S bad behaviour and is in reality not an attack on women but on men. That's how it reads to me, anyway. While this character is perhaps the most interesting aspect of Paul Thomas Anderson's screenplay, it is lost in the tidal wave of people and events that crowd this day. The pain oozes from paternally inflicted wounds, and what humour there is springs from more pain. The film often reminds you of a jigsaw puzzle from a jumble sale, whose pieces have been mixed up with other puzzles. This can be irritating, but it can and does also produce some fascinating moments, bizarre ones, too. As for the so called natural phenomenon near the end, it certainly deserves top marks for bizarre, but it also signals that we are not meant to take the film too literally as a piece of story goes. And the real protagonist is not to be found on the screen: it is Anderson himself, the narrator's voice in disguise, for this is a piece of writing, an intellectual and literary gymnasium for ideas and emotions."
Andrew L. Urban

"Cinematic, visceral and sensual, Magnolia is a powerful drama of intertwined stories that contemplates the co-existence of the past with our present and future. Showcasing superb performances from an outstanding cast, Paul Thomas Anderson's conceptual approach of overlapping stories chisels questioningly into the complex tapestry of life. Music, like the constant rain, is a character to be reckoned with; it bridges the stories and impacts on each of us differently at any given moment. Anderson's platform has broadened – from Boogie Nights' porn industry setting to Magnolia's microcosm of urban life; his passion hasn't wavered. Anderson's fluid direction, like the music (and the rain), never ceases flowing and leads us through a maze of discovery about the human condition. It's a clever script that peels away layer after layer, seamlessly and without noticing the joins. We care for all the characters – and ache for the voices of conscience, regret, hate, love and hope. Capturing the same zesty energy that dazzled us from the beginning in Risky Business, Tom Cruise is magnificent – a super role and a super superstar performance. Philip Seymour Hoffman will break your heart, while Julianne Moore exposes her soul. Yes, it's too long – far too long – but surprisingly, never ceases to grip and is fresh throughout. Weather patterns could well describe the rhythms and graphs of our lives; Magnolia's setting in the teaming, pouring, devastating rain has an unexpected variation on the cat and dog theme. Is it too late to do a U-turn in life? Life may not be short, as we have been told many times; maybe it's long… Magnolia, like the spectacularly beautiful scented flower and like life itself, is an astonishing emotional experience. A journey of passion, life and hunger that, like the deciduous plant, falls and renews again and again, with as much beauty and hope each time."
Louise Keller

"A huge disappointment after his stunning second feature Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia bursts with life and colour in the first hour, turns sterile in the second and becomes incredibly tedious in the third. If you saw Robert Altman's similarly structured and infinitely superior Short Cuts you'll know what to expect as a dozen main characters are set up in the same small area with seemingly nothing in common until connecting threads are drawn. The funny and poignant opening sequence establishing fate's hand in three bizarre crimes from the past inspires hopes of something special but sadly Anderson's first trick is his best and nothing in the ensuing three hours comes close to matching it. The problem is that none of the characters or stories are terribly interesting once they've been introduced. While it's intriguing getting to know this collection of troubled souls, notably William H. Macy as a superannuated quiz-kid on the skids, Tom Cruise as an amazingly non-PC lecturer with a no-holds barred attitude to "scoring" with women ("Seduce and Destroy" is his motto) and the TV quizmaster with plenty to hide played by Philip Baker Hall, there's not enough to sustain the multiple storylines over such an extended running time. Reaching what seems to be a dramatic peak after two hours I looked at my watch and wondered what on earth could fill he remaining hour. Not much, unfortunately and don't be surprised if, like me, you become impatient with the drawn out nature of events and start silently willing various characters to hurry up and die. It's a shame because there are some wonderful performances (including Julianne Moore, Robards' wife) and great individual moments but this is such a long, slow slog it doesn't make the impact it really should."
Richard Kuipers

"Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights), a native Los Angelean, is in prime position to document the lives of his urban neighbours. In Magnolia, he presents a dozen loosely connected Californians struggling with their lot in life. In doing so, he pushes the cinematic envelope on several levels. Most obviously is length. Nudging just over three hours, it's a long, plodding film that documents desperate lives rather than telling a linearly structured story. The characters and their motives are thus observed as the camera cuts and slices between their lives. They appear to have nothing in common, yet each is a lonely misfit, an outsider slowly coming undone as an inescapable need for love catches up with them. Romantic love is sought by the lonely cop and realised by Earl's spoilt wife. Fatherly love runs from the kid-genius desperate for his Dad's attention to Big Earl's dying search for his lost son to Jimmy's need to repent with his daughter. The male nurse has a platonic love for his patriarchal patient, and Frank has a sex-driven love of women. In fact Frank "TJ" Mackey is somewhat the centrepiece of Magnolia, brilliantly brought to life by Tom Cruise. Unlike Macy and Moore (who seem like fish out of water here), Cruise's infamous sex guru holds the audience's attention as much as the female gaze. But how did Frank come to be who he is? Why does Earl's nurse feel such sympathy for his patient? How did Donnie reach such a low point in his life? Why has Earl's wife fallen in love with him at the last moment? By denying us knowledge of character background, and thus motive, Anderson fails to join the dots to his puzzle, leaving such questions up for discussion. It flaws Magnolia with a lack of fully-fleshed characters, and stops it short of being a Short Cuts type of genius. That said, Anderson does infect us with his characters' lives to the extent that a climactic act of God (involving frogs) shakes ours as much as the their account of reality. Perhaps bad things just happen. The last question Anderson leaves to us is the significance of his title. Anyone?"
Shannon J. Harvey

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

See our DVD REVIEW

TRAILER

David Edwards talks to
PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON in Berlin

See Brad Green's SOUNDTRACK REVIEW

MAGNOLIA (MA)
(US)

CAST: Jason Robards, Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Jeremy Blackman, Michael Bowen, William H. Macy, Philip Baker Hall, Melinda Dillon, Emmanuel Johnson

DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Anderson

PRODUCER: Joanne Seller

SCRIPT: Paul Thomas Anderson

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Elswit

EDITOR: Dylan Tichenor

MUSIC: Jon Brion

PRODUCTION DESIGN: William Arnold, Mark Bridges

RUNNING TIME: 188 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: March 9, 2000

VIDEO RELEASE: September 19, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment







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