Over the course of 24 hours, the lives of several interconnected individuals play out in San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles….
Undoubtedly one of the most emotionally draining movies ever made, Magnolia is a hard-going and hugely challenging experience. An epic drama, it follows a myriad of miserable, dysfunctional characters whose individual storylines involve cancer, drugs, incest, porn, homosexuality, religion and seminars about cock-respect. As such. it’s certainly not for everyone, as many viewers will either give up early doors or simply write it off as too downbeat. At just over three hours long, acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson is certainly asking a lot from the audience (particularly as its the sort of movie which requires multiple viewings), but those who ‘get’ it will find a remarkable, sprawling ensemble piece.
Following up his terrific (but underseen) Vegas thriller Hard Eight and dazzling disco-porn odyssey Boogie Nights, it’s also brimming with the sort of camerawork and technical mastery (including a few steadicam tracking shots) we now expect from Anderson. While the latter was clearly influenced by Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas in particular), Magnolia is more akin to the work of Robert Altman (Short Cuts in particular), given the intersecting character storylines. Again, music plays an important part in Anderson’s approach, but despite more effective song placement (including Aimee Mann’s numerous tracks), the most powerful scenes are those scored by Jon Brion (including one theme which sounds noticeably like Hans Zimmer’s stirring Journey To The Line).
While you could debate that the movie is overlong and sags in places, there’s no doubting the performances across the board. In a cast stuffed full of Anderson regulars – Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Philip Baker Hall, Luis Guzman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Alfred Molina – it’s hard to pick a favourite. But yet, Tom Cruise stands out in an utterly electric turn as the charismatic self-help guru, while also offering some of his best dramatic work to date. Regardless though, it’s the audacious (and undeniably outrageous) climax which you’ll be talking about afterwords.
Undoubtedly one of the most emotionally draining movies ever made, Magnolia is a frequently harrowing and hugely challenging experience. At just over three hours long, it certainly asks a lot from the audience, but those who respond will find a remarkable, sprawling ensemble piece.