Magnolia is set in the San Fernando Valley1 in the USA and is a film about several apparently unrelated people. However, being a film much about cause and effect, the story unwinds and reveals some interesting and sometimes bizarre links between the unwitting heroes of the tale.
It has an outstanding cast - in fact, a lot of the actors also star in Boogie Nights, also directed by the same person, Paul Thomas Anderson.
- John C Reilly
- Tom Cruise
- Julianne Moore
- Philip Baker Hall
- Jeremy Blackman
- Philip Seymour Hoffman
- William H Macy
- Melora Walters
- Jason Robards
- Melinda Dillon
- Michael Bowen
The film was released in 1999 and was also written by PT Anderson. It was produced by Joanne Sellar and features a soundtrack by Aimee Mann.
Special mention must be made of the soundtrack and score. The soundtrack is composed of several songs written and performed by Mann and are - in this Researcher's opinion - a stunning and apt addition to the film. The score, however, is what really stands out. The film changes momentum frequently, from very fast to slow, and the score (seemingly lasting the length of the entire film, although that isn't actually true) changes to emphasise this. For example, there is a scene in which quiz kid Stanley Spector (Blackman) and his team mates are preparing for a potentially record-breaking performance on the game show What Do Kids Know?, during which the momentum of the film gradually builds and builds, and it's during times like these that the accompanying dramatic music guarantees that you'll be sitting on the edge of your seat and dying to see what happens next.
Spoiler - if you don't want the film ruined for you before you see it, skip the next two paragraphs.
It begins with a few extraordinary examples of such coincidences: from a man being murdered by three people whose surnames are also the name of the town in which he died, to a couple being arrested for the murder of their son who was trying (but failing) to commit suicide; this is a spectacular story in which the boy jumps from the top of a building and gets shot on the way down by his mother, who was threatening her husband with a gun she didn't know was loaded. The story reveals that the boy would have survived his fall if he hadn't been shot because there was a net attached to the building by workers a few days previously.
Building on this theme, the film then begins properly with an introduction to the colourful characters - from sexaholic Frank Mackey (Cruise) and his seminars on how to 'tame the c**t', to former quiz kid Donnie Smith (Macy), now an adult and a failure. Using a remarkably unusual but fantastically effective directing style, Anderson then tells the stories of their lives over a (roughly) 24-hour period, and goes on to show how they are linked to one another through astonishing coincidence.
The Researcher's Opinion
If you're still unsure whether or not to watch 'Magnolia', let me say one last thing. When I first watched it, I didn't get to see it all, but I saw enough that I spent the next few days tearing my hair out in frustration. When I eventually got hold of it myself (and I'm not usually the kind of person who buys a DVD without having seen the whole film first), I sat down and watched it again from start to finish and I just couldn't believe what I saw. This film is a masterpiece, a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing, and it makes me feel sorry for Anderson - he now has to spend the rest of his life making films that will probably never be as good as 'Magnolia', simply because I don't think that making a better film is possible. If you watch it from start to finish without interruption you will fall in love with it and cherish it as I now do.