Sooner or later, every director makes his Short Cuts.
Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) only waited until his third film to make his, an over-three-hour epic with at least 10 major characters in almost as many separate story lines. And thanks to those characters, every one a rich mystery burning with secrets, Magnolia is a smashing success.
Magnolia has one of the greatest openings I’ve ever seen in a film. Narrated by Ricky Jay, who also has a small role in the movie, we are led through a few short examples of strange coincidence, allegedly real events from the past. Whether or not they are true (one involves the old story of a boy who attempts suicide by jumping from his roof, only to be shot in the stomach by accident on the way down, thus being murdered), they set the tone for the far more bizarre events to come.
And again, it’s those characters that drive Magnolia along. There are far too many players to list, but the highlights include Julianne Moore as the unhinged and much-younger bride of a dying older man. William H. Macy as a once-famous 1960s quiz show star, now an unemployable loser. Tom Cruise as Frank ‘T.J.’ Mackey, an over-the-top guru of female seduction. And my favorite, John C. Reilly as a bumbling and lovelorn LAPD officer looking for a meaningful relationship — on the job. How these characters all come together is what makes Magnolia so much fun.
It’s unfortunate that the sheer, ass-numbing length of Magnolia tends to drag it down at times. Most annoying is the fact that Anderson gives virtually every character a long, drawn-out soliloquy to speak. Invariably these are lost on an audience more interested in keeping the plot moving. There’s even an inexplicable moment toward the end of the movie when all the characters sing along to a song on the radio together, although none of them are in the same place. As an old friend of mine would say, ‘What’s up with that!?’
And of course, as with any three-hour movie, maintaining a solid theme from beginning to end is tough. Magnolia rolls its opening credits to the tune of ‘One Is the Loneliest Number’ and begins as a study of exactly that. By the end, it’s become a movie about redemption and forgiveness, a trend that Pulp Fiction launched and has since been done to death in countless films.
And that’s too bad, because otherwise Magnolia is a world-class film that would have been a shoo-in for the best of the year.
Moore is more.