Does happenstance play any role in our lives? Could the stranger next
  to you at the mall or the movies or seated next to you on the bus/subway
  or in the restaurant have a connection with you? Maybe it’s a distant
  relative or perhaps someone with whom you attended kindergarten. Topics
  like these are raised in
MAGNOLIA, the latest opus from wunderkind
  writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson.

          MAGNOLIA (named for a street in the San Fernando Valley where the
  primary action occurs) is the kind of film that one will either love or hate.
  If you love it, there is much to appreciate, from the swooping camera work
  and slick editing to the somber soundtrack enhanced by several songs
  written and sung by Aimee Mann to the stellar cast. If you hate it, well,
  you hate it. You will call it overindulgent, long, boring and confusing. I’m
  firmly in the former camp. This is an amazing achievement and a heartening
  sign that there are filmmakers who are interested in exploring human nature
  and relationships.

          Anderson makes a giant leap right from the start by establishing
  his theme of life as a series of odd and curiously related occurrences by
  recounting three tales that have the tenor of urban legend (but are
  purportedly true). In each, a twist of fate leads to bizarre results. When
  the main action kicks in, Anderson focuses on nine separate stories, all
  of which are in some ways tenuously connected. He overlays the
  groundwork of maverick director Robert Altman who in films as varied
NASHVILLE and SHORT CUTS took a similar multi-layered approach.
  While Anderson doesn’t really break new ground, he does make leaps in
  his maturation as a filmmaker. His first full-length film
  (a.k.a. SIDNEY) was a character study of a professional gambler and
  began his association with actors like Philip Baker Hall and John C Reilly.
    BOOGIE NIGHTS explored the behind-the-scenes world of porno films
  and centered on a John Holmes-like novice (played by Mark Wahlberg).
  While the acting in that film was generally superb (costars Burt Reynolds
  and Julianne Moore earned supporting nods in the annual Oscar derby),
BOOGIE NIGHTS had a tendency to be too all-encompassing. Several
  subplots were extraneous to the central story and slowed the action too
  much. While some of that is true in Magnolia as well, Anderson seems
  in better command of the material.

          One cannot really summarize the plot of the film, but thematically
  the movie maker appears to be dealing with issues of coincidence, psychic
  twinship (nearly every character has a doppelgänger) and most particularly,
  the parent-child relationship. The major plot points in
  revolve around parents (mainly fathers) and children. In each case, there
  has been a breakdown in the conventional relationship and part of what
  the characters are striving for is a resolution and perhaps an absolution.
  There were several religious themed films released in 1999, and
  arguments could be made that
MAGNOLIA was one. Anderson does
  not name the mysterious forces at work in his story. For audience
  members of a spiritual bent, it could be God; for the secular, Fate.
  However one looks at it, it is an intriguing premise that Anderson (the
  director as Supreme Being) brings to surprising and unexpected

          Like Altman, Paul Thomas Anderson has built a troupe of actors
  with whom he is comfortable working. In nearly each and every case, he
  has hired the best actors for the roles. Of the large ensemble cast several
  stand out including Philip Baker Hall as a TV game show host, Melinda
  Dillon as his long-suffering wife, Melora Walters as their troubled
  daughter, John C. Reilly as her police officer beau, Jason Robards as
  a dying television mogul, Philip Seymour Hoffman as his caretaker,
  William H. Macy as a former child celebrity, Jeremy Blackman as a
  child genius and Tom Cruise as a charismatic sex guru with a surprising
  tie to one of the other major characters. Of the primary figures only
  Julianne Moore has been handed a role that stymies her. As the
  trophy wife of a rich man, this usually fine actress is asked to play
  the one-note of hysteria. Try as she might she is defeated by the
  ill-conceived character. But this is a minor flaw in an otherwise
  excellent film. Although it runs three hours, the time flies by, but
  because Anderson has packed so much information in, it is almost
  necessary to view the film more than once to gain a full appreciation
  for what this talented young writer-director has accomplished.

                                  Rating:                B+
                                  MPAA Rating:        R
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.