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Magnolia
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A reflection upon coincidences by the director of Boogie Nights and Punch-drunk Love.

 

This film, set in the San Fernando Valley, California, where P.T. Anderson grew up, tells the story of peculiar and often moving interactions among several individuals during one single day. It is an ensemble piece that interweaves separate yet connected storylines: Earl Partridge is dying of cancer and asks his caretaker Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to find his estranged son Frank T.J. Mackey (an excellent Tom Cruise), the super-macho author of “Seduce and Destroy”, a self-help system for men to get women to sleep with them, while his young wife Linda (Julianne Moore) breaks down with guilt. Officer Jim Kurring, a forthright policeman goes about his day trying to do good and falls for Claudia (Melora Walter), the strung-out and psychologically unstable daughter of show host Jimmy Gator. Jimmy is presenting What do kids know?, opposing adults to a team of kids, led by prodigal child Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) who cannot stand the pressure that his selfish father is putting him under. The “Quiz Kid” Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) has grown up to be a loser and tries to steal money from the company who fired him in order to pay for his (unnecessary) orthodoncy as he’s fallen in love with a hunky waiter with braces…Some of these characters are really interesting, unusual, endearing, or hysterical, or even hateable. Some we feel compassion for - the children betrayed by their parents - and some depict human sensibility and kindness in a lovely way. Through these interlocking plots, the film deals with coincidences and the significance of family relationships over time, especially between fathers and their children. Other themes include regret, forgiveness, love, the role of media in contemporary life, references to the work of Charles Fort, and even divine fate implied by a rain of frogs.

Magnolia contains P.T. Anderson’s stylistic trademarks: very long takes and the important role played by music; the script itself apparently being largely inspired by the songs of Aimee Mann included in the soundtrack. The result is an intimist approach and it is hard not to feel for the characters, event though we realise at the same time that some of the situations are highly improbable. Although it had a large budget, Magnolia is filmed in a self-conscious independent movie style, with original touches such as all the characters singing a verse of the same meaningful song, or the policeman character talking directly to an invisible camera as if he were appearing on a reality show like COPS.

Finally, P.T. Anderson is a man who likes strong dialogues and isn’t afraid of theatrical effects: one character claims “No, it is not dangerous to confuse children with angels!” and in another scene - the tense TV show - we can see something looking very much like a little angel’s wing in the background just behind Jeremy Blackman’s innocent face…

 

Magnolia - DVD

A film by P.T. Anderson

With: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Philip Baker Hall, Jason Robards, Alfred Molina, Felicity Huffman, Luis Guzman and many more…

Length: 188 minutes

Released: 1999



Delphine Dalquié