A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, December 18, 2015

Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)

I remembered only two things about Magnolia from the first time I saw it: the rain of frogs and Tom Cruise's performance. Now it occurs to me that perhaps I should watch some of Anderson's other films again, especially There Will Be Blood (2007), about which I remember mainly the "milkshake" scene, because there is so much more good stuff going on in Magnolia than I remembered. It has that loose, semi-improvised quality that I have come to admire in Godard, while still lavishing all the resources that the backing of New Line Cinema could afford. On the other hand, I think that the abundance of resources may have undermined the film, because it made possible the two things I did remember, the special-effects frogs and the A-list presence of Cruise, at the expense of the detail work that comes to the fore in my rewatching. I'm talking especially about Philip Seymour Hoffman's touching performance as Jason Robards's nurse, John C. Reilly's naive cop, Melora Walters's scattered druggie, Philip Baker Hall's disintegrating game show host, and Julianne Moore's descent into hysteria. That said, I still appreciate both the frogs and Cruise, who lets out the madness that we had only glimpsed before in his work. The performance earned him an Oscar nomination, as over-the-top and supposedly out-of-character performances tend to do. (We would later, in the Katie Hughes era and as his commitment to Scientology came to the fore, come to wonder how out of character this manic Cruise really was.) I think the movie is too long (it runs 188 minutes), and that perhaps some of its segments exist only because of Anderson's commitment to the actors who made Boogie Nights (1997). I'm thinking here of William H. Macy's character, which seems to me like a dangling thread in the fabric of the film -- though it does result in a wonderful scene in which Macy and Henry Gibson compete for the attention of a hunky bartender (Craig Kvinsland). As for the frogs, I refuse to speculate on their "meaning," preferring the reaction of Stanley (Jeremy Blackman): "This happens. This is something that happens."