Elsa S. Customer suggests Magnolia (in Feature Drama). With its opening vignettes detailing several unrelated events of staggering coincidence, Magnolia clues us in: this film won’t apologize for its capers, its unlikely web of characters and relationships, or its jawdropping leaps into the improbable. Leaps? Oh, yes — leaps. Eschewing the guarded irony and winking metatextuality so common in great modern films, Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterwork is searingly earnest. It’s also operatic, with the flourish of oldtime melodrama played out against the mundane landscape of modern-day Los Angeles. The actors throw themselves into the spirit with unbridled vigor, exposing themselves and us, stripping raw the emotional flesh of the many stories contained here. Some of
these very fine performances feel almost inevitable: John C. Reilly finally has a starring role, as the thickheaded cop with (maybe, you’ll see) a heart of gold; Jason Robards plays a once-imperious man transformed to a weakened, wizened shadow; Philip Seymour Hoffman as a home-hospice aide perfectly balances his utter disconnect from the intimate, everyday tragedy he observes and his natural human desire to ameliorate pain. Other actors’ performances are so out of character or unexpected as to be completely devastating: Julianne Moore is simultaneously infuriating and heartbreaking as a shrewish, uncertain one-time golddigger; Melora Walter’s naked desperation and put-on grit completely fail to mask the vulnerability just below the surface; even Tom Cruise (who, oh my goodness, can actually act! Who knew?) reveals vile depths… and, astoundingly, the vulnerability and sorrow to explain them.
>>>Dennis chips in: Yeah, this is one of my favorite movies, in only the way that a completely-devastating experience can be. Apart from the aforementioned (by my sweetie) uniformly brilliant performances (and I’d add in old pro Melinda Dillon as Walters’ knowing mom), Magnolia, to be blunt, has balls. Cinematic balls. I know the movie’s all old and stuff, but since anyone who spoils any aspect of this (or any other, really) movie should be exiled from Videoport forever and forced to, yechhh, read books for a year, I’ll just say that Anderson makes a couple of the most daring choices I’ve seen in a movie. (I really want to talk about them…Oh, man, it’s killing me…Nope, I’ll just tough
it out.) Anyway, I’ll just say that, apart from the overall excellence of this film, those two scenes (you’ll know them, and how, when you see them) launch Magnolia into the pantheon of completely-ballsy movie triumphs. Seriously, I have goosebumps just thinking about them. Watch this movie.