Monday, December 28, 2009

Magnolia (1999)

It's probably going to be impossible for me to hide my bias against Magnolia in the review, so I won't try too hard. Why I let the film siphon more than six hours of my life away is a question I will be asking myself for a long time to come. Personally, I view it as a blight on the landscape of American cinema. It's an obnoxiously long and masturbatory film that would have drifted into obscurity long ago if it wasn't for the incessant cries of it's devotees. It's the definition of trivial in every way; full of connections, in the loosest sense of the word, references and symbols that amount to nothing really profound. It's a very plain movie with a fistful of easter eggs that goes on an hour longer than it should.

Since it's nearly impossible to give a brief plot synopsis of Magnolia, I will spare you. Suffice to say, it's the story of about a dozen loosely, and I mean extremely loosely, connected characters and what happens to them on one specific night where it rains frogs. Lost yet? The cast is more like a character actor, all-star team, featuring Tom Cruise, who got an almost deserved Academy Award nomination, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, John. C. Reilly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and a laundry list of other recognizable faces, than anything else and their collective performances are about as lazy as a typical all-star effort.Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film clearly never went through any filter other than Anderson and it suffers greatly because of this. It's a bloated and pretentious movie that will had me asking for the three hours of my life it wasted back.

We'll start with Magnolia's most apparent problem. It's length and clear disregard for the principles of economy. There's nothing too fundamentally wrong with the things in Magnolia. It's mediocre at best, but at least, most of the time, it's not laughably bad. There are a few interesting characters and some interesting territory for them to explore, but there is just too much here. For every character worth focusing on, there is at least one that isn't. You're dying and you are wrecked with guilt over sexually abusing your daughter? That's no big deal, we're gonna cut back to Julianne Moore dropping the f-bomb a few more times. This bogs down the experience until your knee deep in the film with no way to pull yourself back out. This happens about forty-five minutes into the movie and for the next two hours you drown slowly and painfully. A few less characters, and about an hour chopped off the run time, would work wonders for the film, but Magnolia's problems run a lot deeper than simple issues of pace and economy.

I lied when I said Magnolia isn't laugh out loud bad at times. From the juvenile script, to some woefully pitched performances to, finally, some odd ball moments, that elicited hysterical laughter from me, the movie just misses the mark in a lot of ways. In a lot of ways I like Paul Thomas Anderson. As a director, he has a lot of skill, but his screen-writing leaves a lot to be desired. Even his best films, There Will Be Blood for example, feature some eye-rolling lines. Magnolia is, downright, full of them. Now, I'm not the kind of person who has a problem with obscenity. In fact, I have a fouler mouth than any of the characters in the film, but if you are going to use as much obscenity as Anderson does in Magnolia, you better be David Mamet. This was amplified, but some really awkward performances by the a few of the film's stars; in particular, John C. Reilly and Julianne Moore. Reilly, who comes off as a goofy characterture, and Moore, who seems to be constantly hyperventilating, give performances that lead to a large amount of inadvertent humor. Throw some in some woefully misconceived montages, a sing-along involving most of the characters and frogs falling from the sky and you've got yourself a film that teeters on the verge of downright stupidity.

I've tried to understand the love for Magnolia, but I just can't buy into it. It certainly has some worthwhile moments, but they are few and far between. The introduction is pretty interesting, but it creates unrealistic expectations of how the movie is going to pan out. It creates the expectation of some sort of profound, solid connection between all these characters, some sort of hidden surprise or connection waiting for us, but that connection is not there. Under other circumstances, I may have applauded Magnolia for not giving us a cut and dry connection between all of our characters, for using a thematic connection rather than a tangible "ah-ha" moment, but it doesn't work here. There are too many characters, that are too loosely connected to it all, for that to work. I will say that, as much as I generally dislike him, Tom Cruise does a solid job for most of the film. It's not too big an accomplishment, since he got, by far, the most interesting and entertaining bits to himself, but I won't disagree with the Academy Award nomination he received. The Exodus 8:2 references and all the hidden stuff in the film doesn't appeal to me. I need to like something before I care to delve that far into it and the stuff hidden in Magnolia really isn't that special anyway. I get it, frogs fall in Exodus 8:2, try some subtly for a change.

Rather than trying to sum up my hatred for Magnolia with more words, I will leave you with something that demonstrates my loathing in full. This being my second viewing of the film, I took my anger out on a blank sheet of paper as the film crawled through it's three hour run-time. I now present to you, a visual representation of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia.



TheAnswerMVP2001 said...

Well I'll give you and Fey props for creativity on your reviews. I still haven't gotten around to watching this, so my review will be fashionably late, but I can only imagine how horrible this will be to sit through so I'll have to find something to do while I watch this. I have a bunch of loose change that needs rolling, so maybe that will do.

Alfindeol said...

Keep something open, but I do suggest giving it a chance for as long as you can. This is our second viewing, so we already knew how much we hated it. The first time, we got through about and hour and a half before we decided in full that we were going to just make fun of it.

The Mad Hatter said...

Wow...I almost can't believe we're talking about the same film!

The Movie Mistress said...

Like a lot of movies, the more I think about it, the less I like it. I have to think back, then, to the first time I saw it and remember that I didn't think it was that bad. Long, yes. Drawn out, yes. Overdone and sloppy, yes. But still pretty decent when you compare it to, oh, let's say, Bicentennial Man. It kept me entertained despite the fact that it didn't leave me caring for most of the characters. Would I want to watch it again? No. And I agree with you that the introduction makes it look WAY better than it actually is. But I don't know if I would say it's bloated and pretentious.

Alfindeol said...

@ The Mad Hatter

Yeah, I get that a lot. I try not to argue with people about the movie because my opinion is so completely opposite. A lot of the things I don't like, other people praise, so it's tricky business.

@ The Movie Mistress

Well, if you're going to go to Bicentennial Man then everything looks great! ;p Part of what irks me about Magnolia is the boat-load of expectations that come along with it. When a lot of people tell you that a movie will change your life and it turns out to be legitimately bad, that makes me angry. I think that if the general opinion of the film was lower, I would hate it just a little bit less. Maybe I would give it a 4.