P.T Anderson’s 3-hour 1999 epic turns 20!
Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” is turning 20-years-old, as to was released in 1999. There is no special release for this movie, but since this is my first time seeing it, I wanted to celebrate by reviewing it.
It has a superb all-star cast, including Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Jason Robards, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Phillip Baker Hall, William H. Macy, and John C. Reilly, three Oscar nominations (Best Supporting Actor: Cruise, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Song: Aimee Mann’s “Save Me”), dangerously interesting elements, and a character study that explodes in ways we may or may not have seen before. That’s why it lasts for three hours, and there’s not a single dull moment.
We meet a variety of characters in the San Fernando Valley, most of whom are intertwined with the popular game show “What Do Kids Know,” which places kids against adults in “Jeopardy.” The people involved with it includes the terminally ill game show host Jimmy Gator (Hall), the former brilliant contestant Quiz Kid Donnie Smith (Macy), the terminally ill show’s producer Earl Partridge (Robards), his greedy wife Linda Partridge (Moore), his estranged motivational speaker son TJ Mackie (Cruise), Earl’s nurse Phil Parma (Hoffman), and the smartest child contestant Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman).
Quiz Kid’s parents took all the money he won on the show, and now, he’s a stupid man in major debt, and on the brink of his oral surgery (braces). TJ Mackie lies about his family life during an interview, because of how much he loathes his father. Linda now realizes she loves Earl more than his money. Gator deals with his illness during the show’s latest episode. And Earl has so many regrets in his life, including affairs.
Outside the “What Do Kids Know” world, we also meet Officer Jim Kurring (Reilly), who, while on duty, has a thing for Gator’s cokehead daughter Claudia Wilson (Melora Walters). They admit to each other their guilts and faults, as their relationship begins.
There’s an opening shot in “Magnolia” when a suicidal man jumps from his apartment, only to be shot to death through the window by his mother before a safety net could catch him. And the narration (freshly done by Ricky Jay) explains the scene with attention to detail. Presented as coincidences, it represents a specific artistic style Paul Thomas Anderson offers in his absorbing entries. And that also applies to a scene later in the film, when raining frogs attack the city
The movie is organized with a variety of colorful characters intertwined in the same universe of fame, love, stress, and regrets. And there’s a sense of poetry when a little African-American kid (Emmanuel Johnson) raps to Jim, when Moore curses at people, when Stanley is at his wits end with being mistreated as a weakling, and when the cast sings along with Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up.”
And the performances are razor sharp. Hall and Robards both steal the spotlight as the respective dying characters, while Cruise nails it as the motivational speaker, Macy shines as the ex-smarty pants, Moore explodes as the greedy woman, and Reilly adds a sweetness to his character.
This movie is now 20-years-old, and seeing it for the first time is a real wonder. I’m sure a whole new generation of movie-goers has seen it, but it’s unbelievable. Kudos to Paul Thomas Anderson for bringing it to life.