I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Magnolia

This is a good picture by a Cinema Artist who knows what the fuck he’s doing but still it’s almost too much for ol’ Vern and I’m gonna tell you why. But hold on there bud I’ll get to that in a minute.

The movie starts out with the song “One is the Loneliest Number” and maybe it’s just me but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that every one of the motherfuckers in this movie is lonely as hell. You got the divorced cop who drives around talking to himself about his job pretending he’s on COPS. You got the young coke snorting gal who sleeps with older dudes like myself and enstranges from her parents. You got her dad, the game show host dying of cancer; you got the TV brainiac kid that hates answering questions, the former brainiac that wants braces for god knows why, the old man on his deathbed, his emotionally unstable young wife, his nurse… I mean I could go on all day but you might as well just see the thing and make a list of all the characters yourself. I mean hell I know I’m Writing a review here but you can’t expect miracles out of me jesus.

MagnoliaLike I said the dude making this movie knows his shit when it comes to the Art of Cinema. This is one of those intoxicating type filmmaking movies where you just get drunk off how great it all is. The casting is all perfect, even the minor characters like two guys that own a furniture store. You always feel like you’re seeing a scene you’ve never seen before, even if it’s something as typical as a pig interogating somebody or a lady picking up pills at the pharmacy. All of the acting is fucking spectacular and there’s a lot of good characters. Now I can’t believe I’m saying this but one of my favorites was this cop. I mean the guy’s an idiot, as well as a cop, but after a while you start to feel sorry for the dude. I mean he falls down in the mud and loses his gun and suddenly everyone on the force acts like he wet his pants or something.

You know come to think of it there IS a scene where a kid wets his pants. On live TV. And the other kids notice and start cussing at him. At the same time the host is just losing it because of cancer, talking gibberish, sweating like a pig, giving away the answers as he stares death in the face and then he falls on his ass. This scene is so damn sad even a hardened, hardcore motherfucker like myself might – MIGHT – theoretically start misting up in the eyes a little. And the thing that’s unusual about it is that it doesn’t even have anything to do with caring about the characters. It’s just that two unrelated, situations happening at the same time on the same show, on live TV, and the situations are SO damn pathetic they make a man cry no matter who it happens to.

And that’s just the beginning. This is a movie that starts out funny and gets sad real quick, and then stays sad for a couple hours straight. And when I say sad I mean SAD. I mean we got two people dying. We got three couples dealing with fucked up relationships, three people dealing with their parents being assholes, we got a murder, we got a drug problem, we got a couple of suicide attempts, we got all kinds of shit.

And there are real good scenes. There’s a funny one where the cop comes over to tell the cokehead to turn her music down. He’s attracted to her so he tries to think of any excuse to stay and chat. Meanwhile she’s shaking from withdrawal and dying to get rid of him. So they end up going out on a date. Even the funny scenes are sad. And remember you got like five or six different stories here and every single one of them is sad. There is not one story about a funny baker or a talking dog. Just sad and more sad.

Maybe the saddest story is about the old man dying who wants to see his son who hates him for abandoning him and whose young wife he doesn’t know loves him and regrets that she cheated on him and is just about at the breaking point. And then there’s the old man’s nurse who we only see on the job but we see how hard it must be on the brain to be a sensitive, Positive type dude whose whole job is to be there when a guy dies.

Yes, this story is sad and I think it’s also pretty unethical. Like many great Cinema Artists whoever the motherfucker is who made this movie has in my opinion violated human rights in his quest for perfectionistics. I mean I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure they took this poor old guy out of a nursing home somewheres and filmed what he did. In fact I’m surprised they cut out the parts where he begged them to let him go because that would have made the movie even sadder as impossible as that may seem. If I am wrong and this was actually just an actor then I apologize and I also would like to say that this motherfucker BETTER get a damn Oscar because he is VERY convincing. If I am right though and he is just a kidnapped invalid then hell give him an Oscar anyway for the ordeal he had to go through for these Hollywood pricks.

Anyway, when you’re watching ten different sad as hell storylines all at once it is fun for a while but then it gets to be too much. You’re sad and you’re sad and you’re sad and then suddenly you just reach sadness overload and it’s hard to be sad anymore. You got people crying and yelling and dying left and right, I mean tragedy and mirth is just squirting all over the screen, but you say, “Eh, who cares at this point. I’ve had too much.” But the sad keeps on coming.

I mean maybe that’s your thing. Maybe you like to cry. I don’t know you, for all I know you LOVE to have your eyes all red and itchy, snot dripping down your face, headache for the rest of the night. You like to stare into the pathetic dirty bottom of the human soul. It’s your thing.

But to me, you can only have so much sad in a movie. And I mean you can have a lot of it, but this movie crosses the line in my opinion. I think you gotta vary the emotions around a little bit for the maximum effect. It’s like in porn. I love the woman riding on top position, titties bouncing around and all. But if that’s the only position in the whole movie then forget it. You gotta try something else at some point. Missionary, 69, missisippi guard dog of course. Emotion is the same thing in my opinion.

But late in the movie something happens, I mean I’m talking the most freaky ass twist I’ve seen in god knows how long, and the picture is saved. This is something I’ve never seen before but I’m sure glad I finally did. It lightens things up and it gives the characters a chance to go wait a minute dude, this is too much sadness, let’s have a little happiness and/or redemption here and there.

Well I don’t know how to end this review really but I’ve been working real hard this week so cut me some slack jack. the end.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 13th, 2000 at 8:37 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

32 Responses to “Magnolia”

  1. This is the best review of MAGNOLIA. Ever. Full stop. Needs to be on the Blu Ray cover next time it’s reissued.

  2. Shit, now I have to watch Magnolia again.

    It’s like the Schindler’s List of soap operas. Epically tragic, yet endlessly engaging.

  3. I haven’t seen this in a long time, but I still remember nearly every moment of watching it. It’s stretched out to such a degree, but it feels appropriate somehow to the tension it builds. Especially the game show stuff which is definitely at the center of the sadness for me. That kid just rips at the heartstrings, just in his eyes.

    This and COLLATERAL make the best case for Tom Cruise as an actor. He’s way more believable as this kind of macho deeply flawed character that really just has a void of sadness in his life that most of us call childhood, as he was able to completely disappear into the character of the anonymous lethal hitman.

    I’m just so glad we have someone like PTA around now, and that he’s still bucking the trends, doing what he wants to do, and still managing to work with the best people he can. Can’t wait for INHERENT VICE.

  4. PTA and Joaquin Phoenix should spend the rest of their days making movies together. They’re such a great cinematic fit.

    And yeah, I think MAGNOLIA is still the best Cruise performance I’ve ever seen. I always stand up for the guy, because I think he’s damn good at what he does, i.e. being a movie star. I don’t think anyone can call him a bad actor after seeing stuff like BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, COLLATERAL and JERRY MAGUIRE.

  5. I like PTA’s first four – HARD EIGHT, BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. Everything after that I’ve found too obtuse for my tastes. His latest with Owen Wilson is based on a Pinchon novel, so it may be the same flavour as BLOOD and THE MASTER.

  6. I imagine that a lot of actors love, and would love, to work with PTA. He’s the kind of director who brings out the best in his cast, with great writing and some really deeply damaged characters.

    I also agree that Cruise’s misogynist guru is his best actor-ly performance, and some of the best acting I’ve ever seen, period. He has two great scenes in this – the interview backstage after his respect the cock/tame the cunt sermon, where the female reporter starts picking at his wounds. Watch his demeanour change from cocky poser to sullen, angry child – “I’m quietly judging you.”

    And then there’s the scene where he tells his dying father how much he hates him for abandoning him and his sick mother when he was a child, which is a truly devastating, powerful piece of acting.

  7. I think THERE WILL BE BLOOD is as masterful as any of those four films you cited Darren, but I’ll agree that THE MASTER was pretty obtuse even for me. I’ve heard that INHERENT VICE is in that vein but with a more quirky slant, so maybe it’ll work. It’s got a pretty killer cast as well, so I think it has a shot at being among the better parts of his work.

    Given his appreciation for action films and his praise of Christopher Nolan (as well as him being buddies with Tarantino), I’d really like to see him do something maybe a bit more commercial but attuned to his sensibility not unlike what Soderbergh did with the OCEANS movies.

  8. THERE WILL BE BLOOD, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES and THE NEW WORLD are my top picks for best American films of the century so far. That’s just my cup of tea.

    So yeah, I really don’t have a single negative thing to say about THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

  9. I only saw THERE WILL BE BLOOD the one time, but it’s a no-brainer that PTA has more than earned enough cred for me to check it out again. Given that, from BLOOD onwards, he has gotten progressively more obtuse, maybe I’ll appreciate it more in light of THE MASTER. And who knows, his latest Thomas Pynchon* adaptation may send me back to THE MASTER with some hair on my chest.

    Or, I should just learn to embrace my inner obtusian.

    * I have no idea what a Thomas Pynchon is. Some kind of pseudo-smart author, is my guess.**

    ** I was sorta right – The Free Dictionary says that Thomas Pynchon is a writer of pessimistic novels about life in a technologically advanced society.

    In other words, prepare to be obfuscated. (In PTA’s case I think obfuscated is a more appropriate word than obtuse, since PTA can’t be accused of not being observant or perceptive.)

  10. The music for this is also great. I vaguely remember when “Save Me” got some play on the radio, but seeing the movie on DVD a few years hammered in to me the genius of both Aimee Mann and Jon Brion. The score builds the tension and the songs provide relief in a few key places (namely the “Wise Up” scene). The Supertramp songs over the scenes at the bar are a nice touch, too.

  11. Glad you mentioned the music, onthewall. It’s one of the few soundtrack albums I own, and I credit it with switching me on to the brilliant psych-poetry of Aimee Mann, who I’d never heard of before seeing MAGNOLIA. I also love her albums THE FORGOTTEN ARM and LOST IN SPACE.

    The behind the scenes doco on MAGNOLIA showed how close her and PTA worked together on this, even having one of those creative collaborator romances that lasts till the end of post production, when the muse leads them down separate paths to further their artistic freedom.

    As you mentioned, the music provides the necessary relief from the rising drama, but I also like how Mann’s lyrics correspond perfectly with the inner angst of PTA’s characters, namely Melora Walters’s lost junkie, the one John C Reilly takes it upon himself to be her knight in awkward armor. The first line of her song Deathly –

    Now that I’ve met you
    Would you object to
    Never seeing each other again

    – is also used in a dialogue exchange between those two characters when they first start dating.

    Also, I always knew Supertramps The Logical Song was one of those classic songs embedded in culture, but it never really hit me
    in the heart until I bought the soundtrack and started listening to it in the context of the movie. It is a truly great, liberating song about the loss of innocence, and the limitations shackled upon us by a society that encourages men to strive for all these second rate qualities, as noble as they are, but nonetheless a society that neglects to give us the answers we really need, the need for identity.

    Aimee Mann also has a cameo in THE BIG LEBOWSKI.

    And, she’s kinda hot.

  12. The Mark Rance documentary is pretty good. My favorite moment in it is Jason Robards talking about Peckinpah, and THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE.

  13. That’s one of the best behind-the-scenes documentaries ever made.

    I can’t remember PTA having a thing with Aimee Mann. I know he was with Fiona Apple for a bit. That’s all before he partnered with the goddess Maya Rudolph, of course.

  14. Apple has a few spots in the doc, including one which I think was PTA’s creative answer to critics who probably didn’t dig it as much. Darren could be referring to Mann’s song “Red Vines” which is about Paul, that you hear towards the end of that doc.

  15. Highly likely that I read too much into the closeness between Mann and PTA on that doco. And, after doing some research, turns out Mann has been married to Michael Penn, brother of Sean, since 1997. My bad.

  16. Penn did the music for HARD EIGHT and BOOGIE NIGHTS, so there was at least something of a professional connection before MAGNOLIA.

  17. “I like PTA’s first four – HARD EIGHT, BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE.” by Darren.

    Couldn’t agree more with that assessment with the exception of Punch Drunk… And the only reason why that film doesn’t work for me is b/c of Sandler playing the lead. Those early films showed somebody exceptional with strong influences by Altman and Scorsese.

    Nowadays, he apparently wants to be Kubrick. Just cold and clinical. Like I said, his first few outings proved this guy was the real fucking deal. It’s like showing off for the other filmmakers out there, but leaving the audience unsatisfied.

  18. I’ve always liked Sandler as a comedian, and somewhat as an actor. His unchanging man-child persona can get a bit tiresome, and the films are more miss than hit. Especially because they seem so lazily thought out, and like an excuse for a bunch of friends to hang out together and have some fun. But occasionally I’ve busted a gut. And he’s got a couple of good ones in there – THE WATERBOY and ZOHAN. So excessively stupid(WATERBOY) and over the top(ZOHAN) that you can’t help but love them.

    Sandler himself always seems so uncomfortable in his own skin, so unsure of himself. In his films, it’s both endearing and a bit scary, to see him try so hard to be pleasing, to then go on a rampage when he loses the plot. Like his squealing footballer mommas boy in WATERBOY. Or when he uses a golf club as a weapon of destruction in HAPPY GILMORE. Or beats the shit out of a geriatric game show host.

    Barry Egan is exactly the same as all the other characters Sandler plays so frequently. PTA simply removed all of his regular crutches and padding, and showed us a big open wound. But in his compassionate, insightful love for Sandler, he surrounded him with an original, whimsical, darkly funny and ultimately heroic story of a guy just trying to express himself, and to be loved. We could all use a friend like PTA in our lives now and again. Give us some perspective.

    And despite the awkward, fumbling journey of Barry Egan, or maybe because of, PUNCH DRUNK LOVE has such a hopefulness to it in the end.

  19. Watched BOOGIE NIGHTS again the other night. Still a great film. Much more than just a Scorsese imitation of style with it’s energetic, roving camera, it’s a grand tragic opera of fringe people looking for love and family. Not as densely packaged as MAGNOLIA, but just as compassionate toward it’s characters as any PTA film. You never feel like PTA is judging his characters, despite their distasteful profession and indulgence in most things carnal.

    There’s a segment toward the end, the denouement before the (one last thing), when Dirk hits rock bottom, and is whacking off in a redneck/gay-bashers car for ten bucks, and you just know it’s gonna get ugly. But at the same time, the story cuts between the tension in that scene, and Rollergirl in a limo with Jack Horner, who’s filming a random encounter with her and some guy they pick up off the street. As Dirk is getting beaten by a group of these rednecks, Rollergirl is getting demeaned by this guy in the back of the limo. And it seems like Dirk is getting punished for his life of sexual misadventure and ego-indulging. But before we can get too cocky(!!), PTA simultaneously puts us in the position of the limo guy, who has vicariously enjoyed the product created by Horner & Co, but who takes it for granted that he can just fuck Rollergirl and be a jerk about it. Well, he ends up getting a Burt beating, and his face stomped on by Rollergirl. PTA wont let you judge these guys and get away with it. Good play, PTA.

  20. The Original Paul

    January 18th, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Goddamn how did I miss this review before? Yeah, I kinda love this film. It’s been a long long long long time since I’ve seen it so I can’t add too much to what everyone else has said, except to ask this: why does Bill H Macy keep getting the “sadsack with a heart” parts? Goddamn, if John freakin’ Malkovich and Michael Palin can both get roles as both scene-chewing bad guys and charming seducers, give the Macy a chance.

  21. Macy got to play the no-nonsense cop on the case in CELLULAR. He wasn’t particularly dashing but there was no sadsack in the character’s DNA and he did get to save the day at the end. You could tell how psyched he was to be playing that type of role for a change.

    Underrated movie, too. I predicted big things for Chris Evans based on it. It was the guy’s first lead role and he had to pull a Tom Hanks and be pretty much alone on camera for most of the running time, not an easy feat for the average prettyboy to pull off. It’s no surprise he ended up having hidden depths of gravitas.

  22. The Original Paul

    January 19th, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    Majestyk – going on a side-track for a second – I’ve avoided CELLULAR because I personally know only two people who’ve seen it (personally as in “not on the Internet”), and both have said it’s a strong contender for the worst movie ever made. Given that the two people in question generally agree on films about as much as, say, me and Mouth – when they’re both that emphatic about how bad a movie is, it’s a pretty big clue to stay the heck away. (It’s quite funny when someone has frothing-at-the-mouth levels of hatred for a movie that hardly anybody else even knows about, let alone has seen.)

    Now I can’t take a side here because obviously I haven’t seen CELLULAR, but the other thing they both agreed about was that Chris Evans was awful. Which I have to say surprised me quite a bit. Again, I can’t take a side, but I would expect him to give a good performance – hell, I put the popularity of Captain America’s recent incarnation (who I find just obnoxious, at least in his first two films – he was fine in “Winter Soldier”) pretty much solely down to a combination of comic-book fan nostalgic enthusiasm and Chris Evans’ excellent performance. He wears that role so damn well, no matter how badly it’s written. I also liked him in SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD although he had a fairly minor part in it. I’m sure I’ve seen other stuff that he’s been in although I can’t remember it offhand. At any rate I don’t ever recall him giving a bad performance in anything.

    And I have to say, you’re not the first person to say that CELLULAR isn’t anywhere close to as bad as it was initially made out to be. I kinda want to see it, just to see how this apparently innocuous film gets so many widely differing opinions.

  23. Well, it’s certainly no masterpiece, but it’s a fun, no-frills time-waster with a good cast (in addition to Evans and Macy, there’s Kim Basinger and Jason Statham) and sturdy, sun-kissed direction from stuntman-turned-hack David R. Ellis. It feels light and unfussy, unlike so much of the era’s genre product. I suspect that tone is what made your friends hate it, but that’s what I like about it.

  24. I agree with Majestyk. CELLULAR was one of those movies I went into with absolutely no prior knowledge or expectations and was surprised at how much fun it was. It was truly suspenseful and the characters always did what I told them to do. You know when you’re yelling at them in your mind to slam someone’s head in a car door and they actually do, that’s a special piece of cinema. It was also when I took notice of Chris Evans and suspected I would be seeing more of him.

  25. If you want to see Macy as a ball-breaking cop, check out David Mamet’s HOMICIDE. Much more talky, but worth seeking out.

  26. So, I recently watched a large portion of Magnolia when it was on HBO. I posted this status update to my Facebook.

    “Magnolia is the single greatest collection of actors over acting that has ever existed. I bet Nick Cage wakes up everyday wishing he was in Magnolia. He would have out over act every single one.”

    How on Earth did Anderson not think to put our greatest mega actor ever, Nicolas Cage, in this movie? What a wasted opportunity.

    Seriously, this is probably the single most over acted movie that ever lived. It’s almost comical how over the top everybody is and just how depressing as fuck it all is. Fuck this movie.

  27. Most importantly, Sternshein, did you fall asleep watching it?

  28. You guys belong in a Kevin Smith film. Magnolia-Fan bashers the lot of you! Go back to your bongs and boobs!

  29. I passed this on to Vern on Twitter so thought I’d share it here too

    Philip Baker Hall

    This week Sam sits down with renowned actor, Philip Baker Hall. Best known for his work with director Paul Thomas Anderson, Hall is a captivating presence on and off the screen. Sam and Philip talk…

    It’s not as extensive a look at his career as I’d hoped, but he shares some interesting personal and professional philosophies that I at least find admirable.

  30. Oh, to answer Shoot’s question, no, I did not fall asleep during it.

  31. I don’t recall ever sleeping during a movie. I’m sure that day will come though as I’ve seen my old man doze off in the theater, even during some particularly loud ones.

  32. Sterny, I forgot I even asking that question. Good of you to answer that conundrum I completely forgot about.

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