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A P.T. Anderson film (written and directed)
Starring Tom Cruise, Julliette Moore, Jason Robards, William H Macy

Sam North on why you should own this movie.

P.T. Anderson has created one of the most moving and electric movies of all times and it’s all the more remarkable because this is only his third feature, the strange and sleazy ‘Boogie Nights’ being his most successful.

Magnolia is written around the lyrics and tunes of Aimee Mann’s songs - she of the ‘sad song, sad voice, life sucks but you still want more variety’. He has achieved much more than he set out to do. Not only are such songs as ‘One’ and ‘Momentum’ used to good affect, but they dominate, deliberately overwhelming the dialogue and weirdly the cast even sing along with the her during ‘Wise Up’. This is a soundtrack film and like our own lives music fills in the gaps.

Nothing about the film is normal or mundane. It’s less a movie, much more a work of art or the equivalent of a fat novel dealing with loneliness, longing and anger, broken love affairs and promises, pathos and all those weird ‘Ripley’ moments in life that defy belief. Coincidences that seem to be too fantastic to be true, but are and like Aimee’s song ‘Momentum’, characters are all very aware of ‘all those minutes and days and hours I have frittered away.’

Scenes have been constructed around her lyrics. ‘Now that I’ve met you, would you object to never seeing each other again?’ It’s the first line in ‘Deathly’ but it’s the last line in a weird coming together of a coke-addict (sexually molested young woman) and a clumsy, single, Christian cop who has fallen for her.

The whole film is about miscommunications, mistimings, missed opportunities and regret and it is all the more real and anquished because of it. My young niece Tabitha who came with me to see it reacted differently to me, ‘Why are all these women such losers? Don’t the men feel any pain?’
Well they do, but they act on it in differering ways. Tom Cruise plays an angry man with a ‘how to get a woman’ video to sell. TAME HER, make her obey to your every whim. He teaches pathetic men to hate women, use them and abuse them, before they abuse you and you wonder what made him hate women so bad.

William H Macy is a former child quiz champion who is down on his luck bug time and life has been a constant downward spiral ever since his folks stole his Quiz Show winnings. He’s so in love with a hunk of a barman, he wants to get braces to look like him. He’s prepared to steal to the get the money to pay for it.

Julliete Moore is married to a dying man, played by Jason Robards. A man who has been a complete selfish bastard all his life, who abandoned his son and wife, left the boy to care for a woman who was dying of cancer. The new wife married him for money, now as he is dying, she has discovered that she loves him, loves him enough to want to end her own life. There’s there’s the new quiz kid Donny who is a big swot with another careless exploitative father and somehow, the cop, the addict, the TV Quiz show, the woman hater, the dying man and the former quiz kid are all intractably linked.

Aimee Mann sings ‘Save me, you will come to save me, why don’t you save me’ and these people do need saving, mostly from themselves.

The music, not only Aimee Mann’s, is so intertextualised that it cannot be separated from the visuals. P.T. Andersen lulls you and pummels you with it and here is a filmmaker growing in stature before our eyes, demonstrating that if film is to survive in the 21st Century it has to be more like this, shattering your expectations and exploding your emotions. When surprises do come (watch out for the the frogs) it’s no small effort but a miracle, a deluge, an endpiece so fantastic it shocks you and rivets you to your seat. It makes you laugh out loud with pure astonishment.

The cast sing, it’s ‘Not going to Stop until you wise up’ and if there is a message, I guess this is it. Magnolia is long, over 3 hours and always magnificent. Only a few cinemas took it, which is astonishing considering how good it is, but if you can find it on DVD now, so buy it.
If you have to see it on video, see it on widescreen and stereo. By all means buy the two Magnolia C.D.s (one the vocal tracks by Aimee Mann, the other the music sound track, check carefully before you buy if you want the Aimee Mann songs).
Magnolia CD ISBN 09362 47583 2 7

© Sam North

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