Monday, September 26, 2011


Man, today was something else. I worked through my lunch break so I could leave work for a doctor's appointment, and I didn't get home until really late - like 9 p.m., after not eating or drinking all day. I have the beginning stages of some weird, painful bone-spur-like condition in one foot, so I ran out to try to buy some shoes to alleviate the pain and pressure on it, hopefully preventing it from getting worse and saving me from having to have icky bone surgery down the road. They're not the cutest shoes, but they're really comfy and I think will make a big difference for me at work. Figures that I never wear skyscraper heels (er, well, a few times here and there, but mostly platform ones and mostly many years ago!) or shoes that fit wrong and yet I end up with issues. Argh! Luckily I got to come home to watch a movie that I love - Magnolia, directed by P.T. Anderson in 1999.

I haven't watched this movie for such a long time. I think the first time I watched it, I was 15. I remember it so well, though - I was totally blown away. I really didn't watch many movies that weren't just new releases, as terrible as that is to admit. I had no idea that movies could tell stories in such unique ways, that they could do anything as cool as this. It wasn't that movie that finally got me to take film seriously or start learning about directors and all that sort of thing, but it will really always have a place in my heart, because I can't watch it now and not remember that sense of wonder and excited smugness, like I had discovered some secret or something.

I think I've been going on about my personal life because I really feel lazy and don't want to tackle this plot. It's one of those movies with characters that are linked together - although I always thought it was a bit more subtle than some others similar films. Ok. The plot. Deep breath. I can do this. Ebert points out that a lot of the movie is about cruelty to children and it's lasting effects, which is a great way to hit on at least one of the central themes here. So, let's start with Earl. He's an old, wealthy man who is dying. He produced a TV show called "What Do Kids Know?". He abandoned his son and first wife as she died, and his son, Frank, is filled with hatred for him. His nurse, Phil, is caring and kind. Earl's second wife married him for his money, but now realizes she really loves him and tries to confront her grief. His son, Frank, is a woman-hating motivational speaker, who teaches men how to "tame women", channeling his hatred for his father. Then we have Quiz Kid Donnie Smith, a grown man who once was famous for being on "What Do Kids Know?" Now he's a sad alcoholic, alone, trying to woo a bartender who ignores him. Another character is a young boy, Stanley, currently on the show, who is incredibly smart but berated by his father and forced to perform. The host of the show, Jimmy, is old and dying of cancer. He wants to make things right with his daughter Claudia, whom he hasn't spoken to in years. She thinks he molested her, and he can't remember. Claudia is a drug addict, but somehow attracts the attention of an honest, kind-hearted cop named Jim, who later helps Donnie Smith fix some mistakes and start down a better path.

That's sort of just...the surface level of connection. It sounds like a lot, but this movie does not let itself get bogged down. The pace often feels sort of tense and exciting as it switches from character to character, so you never lose interest or forget about anyone. I like that sometimes (I think) there is a unifying score - so even when the characters switch, the score stays the same, creating a link and helping to keep viewers focused. I really like that the characters are linked realistically, as well. Sure, there are coincidences, but the film argues that our lives are full of coincidences like that. They aren't like, overly profound or cloying like in something like the Crash that I don't like (the not-Cronenberg). I feel like it's safe to say that Magnolia's plot is not so much driven by the links between the characters as much as it is just about characters who happen to be related to each other in different ways. Deeper ways.

There are some seriously cool scenes in this movie, too. A famous one cuts between all the characters as they sing along with the soundtrack, the lyrics saying, "No it's not going to stop/Til you wise up/No, it's not going to stop/So just/Give up." I remember thinking this scene was incredibly "deep" when I was 15. I thought maybe it wouldn't be quite so brilliant this time around...but it was! Maybe in the hands of another director, it would have been over the top, and easy to laugh at. For some reason, perhaps simply genius, Anderson is able to finesse this scene so well that it's nothing more than just beautiful, emotional, and real. I don't know. Personally, I just love it, and it works really well for me. Later in the film, it rains frogs, which I always enjoyed. It could be too weird or goofy for some people, but I enjoy it. It works. I feel like it just enhances the film, and serves as this really cool way for a lot of the characters to sort of stop some behaviors, or do something empowering that helps to solve their problems. A good catalyst, I guess.

It's a long movie (over 3 hours), but it's never felt like it to me due to it's awesome pacing. The acting here is amazing, the storytelling is genius, and the soundtrack is perfect. It's a great film, and I like it so much more watching it now because I could appreciate so many new things about it. It really is masterful. I also really need to sleep, because I'm already exhausted and it's getting late. The conclusion here is - this movie is great, and it comes with my seal of approval. Which sadly, means nothing.

Have any thoughts about Magnolia? Share them in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Magnolia
Buy or rent it on Amazon

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