RogerBW's Blog

Magnolia (1999) 11 July 2022

1999 drama, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, and a large cast; IMDb / allmovie. Stuff happens.

A year ago when I started doing Ribbon of Memes I wouldn't have enjoyed this at all. I've now watched enough "arty" films, and enough films where the narrative deliberately doesn't have primacy, that I rather enjoyed it, at least once I'd managed to get into the right frame of mind to appreciate it.

Which took me a while, after an introduction that presents several urban legends as fact but does it in an amusing way. The characters are (deliberately!) unsympathetic: for example, I've known people who've built their entire personality round a grievance or a problem, and they just aren't pleasant to be around. (Everyone else in the film also feels that way about Donnie the (former) Quiz Kid, but that doesn't mean I want to spend time watching him.) Tom Cruise, the star of this if anyone is, is at his Tom Cruisiest as a "pickup artist" (giving seminars on subjects like "How to Fake Like You Are Nice and Caring") – the character is a horrible human being, but it's an amazing performance. (Also he turned down the starring role in End of Days to do this – good call!)

Similarly, Officer Jim thinks of himself as trying to do good: but while we get his internal monologue, we also see him from the outside, and in terms of his actions he's still pretty unpleasant in a standard police mould.

Apparently audiences walked out when this film hit cinemas; my best guess is that this was during the rain of frogs. But by that point I'd got in tune with the thing and it seemed entirely appropriate. Similarly, there's an entire cut sequence dealing with how Officer Jim's lost gun gets back to him… but I think I'm happier without it

There's no real conclusion. Some people are dead, some may have a chance at something better, but mostly they're just the people they were before, a day or two older but still able to make the same mistakes. The whole thing's very bitty, but the individual bits work very well, particularly with a non-glamorous version of death from protracted illness.

Do you need three hours of film to say "you can't get away from the past"? Of course not. But I enjoyed this more than I expected to.

As usual if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

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