As an aspiring screenwriter, seeing films with many different characters with their own complex stories is a bit of a wonder, especially when it’s done well. Seeing these multiple characters’ story lines intersect and affect one another is almost an overwhelming experience out of the seer difficulty of it. This type of story line are seen in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and David Cronenberg’s Crash, but the grandest example of this comes from Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic drama Magnolia. This is a beautiful, devastating, and often funny in a down to earth way that forces you to connect on some level to at least one or two characters.
On a rainy day in the San Fernando Valley, the lives of seemingly unrelated people intertwine and connect in ways that may seem simple, but has the potential to be life changing. Producer Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is dying of cancer, and his wife Linda (Julianne Moore) can only cope with the death and her own moral insecurities through the use of prescription drugs. Earl’s nurse Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman) goes on an investigation to find Earl’s lost son Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise), a self-centered sexual guru who wants to stay far away from his family. Jim Kurring (John C. Riley) is a lonely police officer who finds hope Claudia (Melora Walters), the cocaine addicted daughter of Jimmy Gator (Phillip Baker Hall), a game show host where Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) won thousands of dollars on as a child. These lives all collide over the course of a very long day with hopes of salvation.
Clocking in at over three hours long, it would be easy to lose interest in this movie if it wasn’t in the more than capable hands of Paul Thomas Anderson. There are a handful of directors working in film now that can handle the task of making a three hour film interesting for its entirety. I would love to see the screenplay to Magnolia and see how Anderson structured it, because this movie is huge and small at the same time. While you can call this movie epic, I don’t find that this is entirely appropriate because the stories are told on a microcosmic level. Magnolia is a very human film that deals with topics that can be deemed as “mystical” like love and death, but they are all dealt with on a very human level.
I can’t rave about the writing without also raving about the performances by this stellar mega cast that may be one of the best in film history. Tom Cruise won the Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance, and rightfully so. His character goes through the most visible change and the range that is needed for this character is huge, and he pulls it off very well. The late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a very understated and realistic performance which made me realize once again the great talent that the acting world has lost. My personal favorite performances in the movie are given by John C. Riley and William H. Macy, both who give borderline tragic performances and probably the most personable to the average human being.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies are really beautiful to look at, but it isn’t always easy to say why they are so beautiful. There Will Be Blood has a very open and occasionally dirty visual style and The Master plays with depth of field and distorts the viewer’s point of view. Magnolia, much like its themes, is beautiful on a much smaller level. There are some excellent scenes where instead of cutting up dialogue or traveling, Anderson decides to just keep the camera running which almost made me forget I was watching a movie at times.
Paul Thomas Anderson has created a wonderful piece of cinematic beauty with Magnolia. Everything about this movie is wonderfully executed from the pitch perfect, complex screenplay, unflashy directing, and incredible acting. While the climax of this movie creates some dissension amongst audiences, you can’t deny that this is a movie that makes you think about your own beliefs and your own ways of dealing with the big problems in your life. Problems that are actually very small in the grand scheme of things. Problems that don’t just affect you.