Magnolia (1999) – Review

2 1/2 Stars


Has there ever been a movie that has divided audiences so greatly in modern cinema? Magnolia is a sprawling drama that centers on a dozen people’s lives during the course of two days in Los Angeles. The interconnected story lines and lackadaisical approach to scene building is a hallmark of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s obvious mentor, Robert Altman. At over three hours Magnolia is a commitment that requires steadfast concentration to pick up all the subtleties hiding in the corner of the frames. Anderson is an acquired taste, and this project plays to his quirkier sensibilities, yet retains a reoccurring theme of fractured relationships between children and their parents.

Much like Altman and Woody Allen, top-tier actors line up to flesh out the characters in Anderson’s screenplays. Magnolia features Tom Cruise in a mesmerizing performance that proved his range and acting ability after years of blockbuster fluff. John C. Reilly is an off beat and effective choice, as is Anderson mainstay Phillip Baker Hall playing a talk-show host with a dark secret. There are far too many parallel subplots and vignettes to go on in-depth about here. I have a feeling within the first five minutes most audiences members will have decided if Magnolia is their kind of film.

I have a love/hate with this picture. There are moments that hum with truth steeped in realistic human behavior and longing, yet it also rains frogs (if I ruined that for you, too bad you’ve had 14 years to watch the damn thing). Cruise is revelatory in his portrayal of a wounded man turned arrogant chauvinist as is William H. Macy, a former child prodigy gone nowhere. Then all the characters have a solemn sing-along to a song on the soundtrack in each one of their various storylines. If that last sentence doesn’t incite chuckles, then Magnolia may be the movie for you.

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman

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