Magnolia (1999)

“This was not just a matter of chance. These strange things happen all the time.”

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jason Robards and Julianne Moore


Magnolia is a film that often splits an audience. Some people don’t like it as it is quite pretentious in places, yet along with these negative reviews it has received much critical acclaim too.

Magnolia carefully and intricately interweaves the lives of several different people on a normal day in the San Fernando Valley. Each character is looking for happiness, forgiveness or meaning in their life and it just so happens they coincidentally find peace with themselves after a day of random events.

One of the first things I noticed about the film was the incredible use of music which is employed superbly in every scene. While it has a great soundtrack, Aimee Mann was responsible for the score which brought out real emotion and passion in most of the scenes. It just shows how powerful music can truly be, and this film is a prime example of it being used to its fullest.

The cast is brimming with talented actors, and with so many different storylines to keep a track of, they each made their own significant and memorable. This is very important as with so many strands, the audience need to stay engaged with each for when it’s left and then later revisited. The film had me gripped throughout due to the attention and levels of detail within each story, this was another of the main positives I found about the film. The script is fantastic and each story is as powerful as the next, seducing the audience and making it very magnetising to watch.

We see star performances from Jeremy Blackman, Melinda Dillon, Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards, and Melora Walters, one of the best collaborative casts I have seen in film. While they each undoubtedly give fantastic performances, Cruise showed me a character that I haven’t seen from him before, nor was I expecting. He manages to dig deep and express his character, Frank T.J. Mackey, in a light that I haven’t seen him do and it was a pleasant surprise. Reilly and Walters were involved in another story that I loved watching, they had a real chemistry and this random love link was nice to see unfold. I think they both did great, though you can say that of any of the main characters.

Blackman played a boy-genius who faced pressure from his father to win every games show contest he was entered in, so he could capitalise off his son’s success, he gave a great performance and especially so for a child. Hall was the game contestant show host, dying of cancer, he gave a very helpless yet touching performance. Macy was a grown boy genius who had his 15 minutes of fame after beating the odds of the games show in the sixties, though now he is struggling with loneliness after being cast aside as a weirdo. Moore was great as a super-bitch and confused wife, her husband is dying of a terminal illness though she can’t handle the guilt she has for cheating on him for years beforehand. Robards played said husband and although he spent the whole film in a bed, he pulled off a strong performance. Hoffman was great as his male nurse too, and even though he cried a lot, he still made it work.

I did have problems with Magnolia though, and they are not easy to overlook. Firstly with all of the biblical references – it seemed that the director, Paul Thomas Anderson, was pushing for something more than what the film was, making it a bit pretentious and in over its head. Some scenes are absurd too, yet while all of this illogicality and randomness demonstrate the willingness that Anderson had for the film to actually mean something more, it gets so obvious in places it seems desperate. It also raises confusion with the end message. The coincidence-not-coincidence type of logic leaves the message of the film open for interpretation but with no hints or coherency – does the film even know what it’s trying to say?

Regardless of this, Magnolia is a moving film that hinges on the narratives and interpersonal connections that the characters have with each other, but that’s it. It fails in being anything more and the desperate need for it to be a film with a profound and life-changing message only opens it for more criticism. The characters were great, as was the score, the editing and the interweaving stories, but the push for it to be something more doesn’t place it in the category of a modern classic, but just a wannabe.

Star rating:  7.5/10

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

Running time 188 minutes.

2 thoughts on “Magnolia (1999)

  1. Andina

    I agree. Magnolia is one of the movies that the critics loves but the viewers not, especially those who seeks entertaining movies. Aimee Mann’s song ‘Wise Up’ is a great song.


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