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  Magnolia Something For The Pain
Year: 1999
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Jason Robards Jr, Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeremy Blackman, Philip Baker Hall, William H. Macy, Melinda Dillon, Ricky Jay, Henry Gibson, Michael Murphy, Alfred Molina, Luis Guzmán, Eileen Ryan
Genre: Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 9 votes)
Review: It's a world where strange things can happen, such as coincidences and bizarre tragedies. Here are a collection of people who are already connected, or will be by the end of one day in Los Angeles. Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is a bedridden TV mogul who is dying of lung cancer. His wife, Linda (Julianne Moore) married him for his money, but has now changed her mind about him. At his side is Phil Parma (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a nurse who will try and contact Earl's estranged son, who now goes under the name of Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise), an aggressive self help guru for single men.

One of Earl's television programmes is "What Do Kids Know?", a quiz where brainy children like Stanley (Jeremy Blackman) show off their general knowledge, and it is hosted by Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), who is also dying of cancer. He is estranged from his daughter Claudia (Melora Walters), a drug addict living alone until policeman Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) is called to her apartment after a report of a disturbance. Meanwhile ex-child quiz champion Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) is about to lose his job. At the end of this day, a traumatic one for all of them, something totally unexpected will happen to bring them together.

This brilliantly edited, love it or hate it, three hour long relationship epic was scripted by the director, Paul Thomas Anderson, and became notorious not for its great acting or controversial subject matter, but for its outrageous way in abruptly taking all the threads of the plot and tying them all up in a truly strange manner, its inspiration being the work of Charles Fort, a chronicler of fantastical true events. Before you reach that last act, however, you have to suffer along with a variety of characters, some of whom start sympathetic, and some who grow sympathetic, through a day that will change their lives.

Every one of them must come to terms with their existence, summed up by the repeated phrase "We might be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us". They each put on a face to the world: Frank and his unashamedly misogynistic teaching seminars, all informed with the desire to get women into bed, Jimmy as the smooth presenter that hides a life of adultery and one terrible secret, or Donnie, whose past glories are far behind him, still trading on his meagre celebrity to make up for the earnings his parents walked away with.

And one by one, we watch their facades crack as they break down. Frank is confronted by an interviewer who knows too much about his past and then has to summon the courage to meet his father before he dies. Messed up Claudia finally meets someone who will love her, Jim, but can't accept his awkward steps into her heart, and Jim loses his gun while on patrol, making him a laughing stock at the station, as if he wasn't one already. Linda realises she loves Earl just as he is slipping away, and is set on a course of self-destruction. None of these lonely people want to be alone, but are reduced to make fumbling attempts to get the love they desperately need, and forgiveness is the key.

A reason why Magnolia is so compelling is perhaps that it glamourises the problems of the characters, making them tower over their lives on a grand scale. The actors are uniformly excellent, revelling in the chance to run the gamut of emotions; only Cruise, well cast as a shallow man, overdoes it in his big scene - a shot of Hoffman's underplaying has far more power. Both funny and upsetting, the film's length wears you down, but the audacity of the project impresses, despite a knowing tone that shows up its contrivances. Any film that is prepared to stop the action for a maudlin singalong (the songs are by Aimee Mann) commands attention, to say nothing of the finale - after what you've seen, you would expect a tragedy to end the story, like an earthquake, but Anderson gives his creations something to marvel at to put their issues in perspective. They've endured enough. Music by John Brion.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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