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New Century of Cinema
DOWSE Guide to the
by Tony Lee editor of
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
186 minutes (18) EV
review by Ceri Jordan
Is there any such thing as coincidence? Do our lives intersect by chance, or are we
actually linked by a web of connections we can never see from the inside?
After raising the question in a humorous prologue, Anderson hurls us
headlong into the lives of a collection of strangers. Without introduction or
explanation, we are presented with (among others) a dying cancer patient, a child
game-show contestant, a neurotic junkie and her estranged father, a clumsy cop, and a
self-styled sex-god fronting seminars that teach inadequate men to 'seduce and
destroy'. With consummate patience, the film then teases connections from this random
group, unravelling relationships and parallels that they have spent their lives
covering up or denying.
At just over three hours, Magnolia is less a film, more an
experience, and the action comes dangerously close to flagging after the first hour.
However, Anderson chooses exactly that moment to up the pace, and you find yourself
suddenly, unexpectedly mesmerised by a plot unfolding with the fierce inevitability of
The script is both skilful and self-effacing, handing opportunities to a
superlative cast and then standing well back for the fireworks. Much has been said of
Tom Cruise's mould-breaking performance as the repulsive guru devastated by a past he'd
thought buried, and it's undeniably a career best. But perhaps the real star is the
underrated William H. Macy, deeply affecting as the child genius and game-show star now
reduced to working in a furniture store, trying to impress the love of his life in the
most peculiar fashion.
Despite death, drugs, and estrangement, there is hope here - and humour,
and a surreal streak that manifests as the most unusual storm sequence in film history.
It's only as you reach the end that you realise the film is focused around that most
American of subjects, the relationship between children and their fathers. It takes you
this long to register that fact for one reason. Anderson has utterly eschewed the
normal schmaltz and sentiment, presenting us instead with a brutally honest look at how
parent and child seem destined to both need and hurt each other, and the more the hurt,
the more the need. A captivating film destined to become a classic.
originally published online in VideoVista #19, October 2000
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