No 89 - Magnolia
Director - Paul Thomas Anderson
My apologies again, I have been on a bit of a roll with watching films (both on and off list) and have not been keeping up to date with my blogging. So, apologies if once again my views are less concise in these blogs, as several days have passed since I saw some of them.
I had only ever seen Magnolia once prior to this viewing and I remembered it being one of those films which I had to struggle through... I'm not sure if I hadn't been in the correct mind back then or if I have matured (ha!) but I found completely the opposite this time. I still found it long, but this time it was fascinating and captivating and full of characters who were incredibly interesting.
The key phrase here being 'full of characters' - this is a massive ensemble cast. Massive and powerful. But not only is it a massive cast, it is a phenomenal cast full of powerhouse actors (though several of them are P. T. Anderson regulars) John C Reilly, William H Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise. There are so many respected actors in this film that they even turn up in bit parts. Look at Alfred Molina sneaking in for a scene. This is clearly a film that a lot of people wanted to be part of. What impresses me is the balanced way that the film juggles such a large cast and allows each character to have their own story and to have enough time for that story to be told.
Most of the stories are terribly, beautifully sad. Look at Donnie for example - the tragic former child genius who no longer has a purpose in life. A strange and lonely man, you can see him as worrying premonition of the current young genius Stanley's future. However, there are some quietly uplifting stories scattered throughout.
Take John C Reilly - his Officer Jim Kurring is another lonely person (a definite theme throughout this film), but through mild bending of policing policy he manages to find happiness. And it is wonderful to see John C Reilly playing a deep and meaningful role rather than something silly.
However, the real star of this film is Tom Cruise. This film is further evidence that he should break away from his 'safe' action hero roles and play a bastard more often. After all, he is excellent as Lestat and even manages to be one of the more enjoyably silly elements of Tropic Thunder. Frank TJ Mackey is a wonderful character - allegedly based on Ross Jeffries, he blusters around full of arrogance and with a back story full of lies.
What is really interesting though is watching his defences crumble as he is interviewed by someone who knows his true back story - the way he moves from being charmingly contradictory, through to aggressive, and finally to a petulant silent bastard.
His final scenes with his dying father are generally beautiful and show a wondrous character arc.
It is a film which really takes care of its character but which puts them through a proper obstacle course of emotions. Whilst this film is emotionally tiring it stays grounded in realism; so the few times it moves away from realism have a powerful punch.
Let's begin with the montage of people singing Aimee Mann's Wise Up - this is something very easy to get wrong, to make look cheesy. Yet kudos to Anderson, he manages to make a montage which not only isn't jarring, but is actually moving.
It is also surprising that when Deus Ex Machina is literally used (a genuine biblical plague) in order to bring the characters closer together it doesn't feel forced. It feels surprising and strange. But it feels like it is handled correctly. And there is something sickeningly funny about watching the cars try to drive through the bloody piles of frogs in the aftermath of the storm.
There is an awful lot going on in this film. Even were the film to give each character a simple character arc, it would still be a long film - but its characters are flawed, complex and real, which makes a film that is both long and utterly captivating.
However, whilst this may sound like scant praise, the best bit of the film is the introduction: an amazing narration from Ricky Jay begins to explain the nature of coincidences and of freak moments. It also sets up the importance of suspension of disbelief. It sets us up for the strange cinematic moments amongst the tragic realism but it also ensnares the viewer. I found it fascinating and from those first moments I was hooked. I was prepared to go on the journey this film was offering. I was willing to believe or disbelieve whatever it takes in order to be in the world of the film (this doesn't always happen... sometimes I just can't suspend my disbelief and the whole film jars).
For while the film is grounded in realism, it still relies a lot on coincidence.
And to quote the narrator:
We generally say - 'well, if that was in a movie, I wouldn't believe it.' Someone's so-and-so met someone else's so-and-so and so on. And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that strange things happen all the time. And so it goes. And so it goes.