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Magnolia (2000)

“You may be through with the past, but the past isn’t through with you.”

A group of eclectic characters, all somehow connected to a game show, explore overlapping themes of loneliness and loserdom.   There’s the dying producer of the show, who is desperate to connect with his estranged son, played by Tom Cruise, who is a snake oil saleman teaching men to dominate women.  There’s the dying man’s wife, Julianne Moore, who married him for his money, but now that he’s on his deathbed, discovers she really loves him, and hates herself.  There’s the game show host, who can’t remember whether or not he molested his daughter, who’s a crack addict.  John C. Reilly is a bumbling policeman who comes to check on her, and ends up asking her out on a date.  And there’s William H. Macy, who as a child was a contestant on the gameshow, and is now in love with the local bartender, who barely knows he exists.  And there’s the current 11 year old contestant on the show, who just really needs to pee.  Ultimately in rains frogs (literally) on all of them while they sing an Aimee Mann song.

Of course watching “The Master” made me want to watch other P.T. Anderson films and see if they are the same mixture of weird and compelling. And they are.  If anything, “Magnolia” is even stranger and more affecting.  With “Magnolia,” I found myself caught up, even distracted, by the strange structure — Anderson borrows Scorsese’s habit of stringing short scenes together over a single piece of music, but at times, the music is so loud you can barely hear the conversations.  He also loves to cut away abruptly, right before a crucial moment — I’m seeing this more and more in independent cinema, and I wonder if we have Anderson to blame/thank for it.

Verdict: It’s not for everybody, but if you don’t mind being a little bewildered or are comfortable with liking a film you don’t understand, “Magnolia” is for you.  I’m convinced Anderson follows his own rules.  I don’t know what they are, but I can’t deny there’s a unity to his film oeuvre, and his films are distinct and memorable, if bewildering.

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