Magnolia (1999)

Magnolia, to me, could be best described as a film about love mixed with a movie about chance.  I say that because it presents a variety of incidents involving chance.  But for all of our main characters, love is what made them who they are.  It is a film that truly is a character piece, and everyone of them has a problem that involves love.  You have characters who are looking for it, characters who have been betrayed and heart-broken by it, and characters who are trying to kiss and make-up after destroying what they once had with others.  But at the same time, they are all connected on a more interactive level.  

All of the main characters are spider-webbed from two old men:  One is Earl Partridge (played by the late, great Jason Robards in his final film before his death in 2000) and the other is Jimmy Gator (Played by Phillip Baker Hall).  Their connection is a Game Show called “What Do Kids Know?”, where Partridge was the show’s producer before he developed cancer, and Jimmy was the show’s host, even after finding out that he too had cancer.  

From these two men, are their families, the contestants on their show, and the outsiders who meet either them or their family members:

LINDA: Earl’s trophy wife, who is a gold digger (played by Julianne Moore)

FRANK MACKEY: Earl’s arrogant self-help guru son, who teaches men how to become a pick-up artist.  He hates his father for leaving him when he was 14. (played by Tom Cruise in 1 of his best roles)

ROSE: Jimmy Gator’s wife, who is loyal to him but doesn’t know all of the facts.

CLAUDIA WILSON: Gator’s daughter, a cocaine addict who hates her father so much she throws him out even after he tells her he’s dying.  She is also looking for love.

Every other main character is somehow connected to these two families:

PHIL PARMA: Earl Partridge’s male nurse, who helps Earl track down Frank.  He looks for love, or at least tries. (Played by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman)

JIM KURRING: A Police Officer and practicing Christian who is looking for love and falls for Claudia Wilson after he comes to her apartment over a call about her music being too loud.  (played by Wreck-It Ralph himself, John O’Reilly)

STANLEY SPECTOR: A new child prodigy who appears on “What Do Kids Know?”  He is hounded by his father to win the prize money, and doesn’t feel loved or appreciated by anyone.

“QUIZ KID” DONNIE SMITH: Who could potentially be known as “Future Stanley Spector”.  Smith was the “What Do Kids Know?” champion in 1968.  His parents spent all of his money, and he seeks to have a homosexual relationship with a muscular bartender who has braces. Wanting to be accepted by this man, he tries to get braces himself in order to connect somehow.  Even though his teeth don’t need them and his job situation is in shambles. (played by William H Macy in a fantastic performance).

Magnolia can be quite a difficult film to watch.  The acting is extraordinarily good, to the point of near legendary proportions.  So good in fact, that the scenes of great anger, shouting and distress would be enough to make you stop watching, because of how unwelcome and oppressive it is (in fact, it is said a number of people walked out when this film was in cinema).  The music is beautiful, with most of the songs being done by Aimee Mann and works well with the movie.  The cinematography maintains an artistic presence while also being by-the-book, and works very well.  The characters are very good, showing a great range in many of them (such as Claudia being both a shouting, raving drug addict and a shy, insecure woman who doesn’t want to be hurt again), as well as complimentary roles to balance them (such as Phil Parma’s tenderness or Jim Kurring’s compassion and concern).  Although despite this, I don’t know these characters like I would have known them in a TV show or comic book, or even a lot of other movies.  I also don’t find a lot of them particularly likeable.  Most of them might make terrible friends.  But I guess that’s the challenge of creating and liking human characters.  The challenge being the acceptance of their dislikable qualities (not just cute little character flaws, but their genuine dark side).  Or maybe it was because of the times; in the late ’90s, people were becoming more interested in fleshed-out protagonists who acted more like villains, such as Tony Soprano.  The story doesn’t really follow a pattern, other than that of a TV show like Game Of Thrones or The Sopranos (only it’s 3 hours long).  It tells many stories going on at once, presents some connections and then something happens that they can all relate to by chance.

9.25 for the Story, 10 for the Acting, 8.5 for the Characters, 9 for the Music, 9.5 for Cinematography.  Overall: 92.5/100 (4 and 1/4 stars out of 5, if zero was minus 5 stars)

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