Film Commentary [1-28-00]
Mosaic of human drama - - Magnolia
Genre: Drama
Grade = A+



Magnolia is a multilayered drama of coincidence, redemption and fate. This film intertwines the stories of eleven individuals and how they interact on the periphery of each otherís lives during one day and night in Los Angeles. The characters include Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) as an old man dying of cancer; Linda Partridge (Julianne Moore), Earlís wife whom she married for his money but realizes that she has fallen in love with him as he lies dying; Frank Markey (Tom Cruise), the son Earl abandoned as a child who now works as a macho infomercial empowerment guru selling his method of how to seduce women; Phil Pharma (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Earlís at-home nurse who tries to reunite father and son; Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman), a genius wiz-kid earning money for his deadbeat actor dad (Michael Bowen) on a quiz show that pits smarts kids against average adults; Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), a 45 year-old ex-quiz show wiz-kid in deep personal and financial trouble; Jimmy Gator (Phillip Baker Hall), the quiz show host and national icon of family values who is also dying of cancer and wishes to atone for his past transgressions; Rose Gator (Mellinda Dillon), Jimmyís faithful wife who hears his terrible confession; Claudia Gator (Melora Walters), their estranged coke-head daughter; Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly), a L.A. police patrolman, a bumbling nice guy, who eventually responds to a call at Claudiaís apartment house; and Dixon (Emmanuel Johnson) a 10 year-old hustler and wannabe rapper who may be a witness to a murder Officer Jim discovers on his first call of the day. Each character's story and background is far too complex to describe in this review.

Directed by P.T. Anderson (Boogie Nights, which I did NOT like), this film hosts a crop of great performances, particularly those by Jason Robards and Phillip Baker Hall. Robards playing his role as a semi-conscious victim of cancer was particularly adept as he had to perform while laying practically motionless in bed for the entire time he was on screen. Hall, as the game show host, brilliantly executed the changeover from the characterís public and private personalities. Jeremy Blackmanís performance as the quiz-kid was a spectacular achievement for someone his age and may be the best child performance Iíve seen in years. But then again, anything would be better than that of Jake Lloydís as Anikan Skywalker in the latest Star Wars flick. Cruise also manages to extrude sleeze as his character first performs his spiel for an audience and then through an interview with a sharp female reporter who easily cuts through his line of BS. Additionally, there is also a great supporting performance by character actor Henry Gibson as an elderly gay barfly.

Although this type of storytelling has been tried before, notably Robert Altmanís Short Cuts, this film differs in that it succeeds in its vision. Unlike Short Cuts, it isnít boring. The script knits the characters situations and coincidental meetings together virtually flawlessly. Combining the action, dialog, music and cinematography into a brilliant film. The ending was particularly surprising, probably the most unexpected ending I have seen in years.

Finding a movie like this is why I love film so much. A phenomenal script with engaging scenes and fully developed characters, great performances, intense, involving and a climatic surprise ending. This is a sophisticated and challenging film for adults who actually have a brain. Although it is three hours long, you just donít notice it as you are sweep into the characterís world.


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