The following post is by entry for the Phillip Seymour Hoffman Blogathon hosted by Jordan Dodd on epilepticmoondancer.net. Thank you for letting me participate, Jordan. My post is about one of my favorite Paul Thomas Anderson films, Magnolia that coincidentally also features one of my favorite Phillip Seymour Hoffman performances.
Magnolia is a film of both great ambition and great passion. It is by far the most daring and emotionally intimate film of Paul Thomas Anderson’s stellar filmography and perhaps one of his most rewarding ones as well. The film chronicles a day in the life of nine San Fernando Valley residents; a dying father, a young wife, a male caretaker, a famous lost son, a police officer in love, a boy genius, an ex-boy genius, a game show host and an estranged daughter all searching love, forgiveness and redemption whose lives intervene in a series of interconnected events.
The film is a work of considerable virtuosity, it’s flawlessly constructed and it’s one of those films where even the slightest blunder can derail the writer’s efforts but Magnolia is constructed on such a brilliantly complex structure that even when there are breaks in the narrative they are overshadowed by the impeccable performances and the film’s superb visual style. Magnolia is also the most ‘talky’ film of PTA’s career. The film clocks at 180 minutes and is a dialogue driven film where reliance on set-pieces is very little but rarely does the dialogue feel forced or contrived. Sure, Magnolia is very melodramatic and the characters scream out and cry with astounding regularity but never does the film come across as sappy rather the film feels more of a proficient blend of melodrama and drama and what makes it different from many other melodramas is that you can actually feel for the characters and their struggles.
The characters in this film are even more human and compelling than those in Boogie Nights mainly because they are all given an equal amount of attention and the performances are uniformly great. Anderson meddled with ensemble casts with both his previous films but here he has some of the absolute best talent on showcase. From old collaborators – Julianne Moore, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Phillip Baker Hall – to new ones – Jason Robards, Tom Cruise, Melora Walters, Melinda Dillon – everyone brings something to this film.
While it’s fair to say that Tom Cruise’s charismatic performance overshadows many of the film’s other performances, nothing can be taken away from PSH’s wonderful and gravitating work in this film. As nurse Phil Parma, PSH is truly mesmerizing. He is in my opinion the emotional center of this film and his scenes with Jason Robards’s Earl Patridge bring out some of the most touching moments of the movie. The reason PSH’s character works so well is because he is the most normal and sympathetic character in this film.
All in all, Magnolia is a beautiful and incredibly soul-stirring tale of characters dealing with different emotional burdens. The film serves as a showcase for Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant capabilities as both a writer and a director as well as the sensational performances on offer from its ensemble cast, particularly, Tom Cruise and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The film builds and builds until everything comes together in an ending that is likely to leave you either amazed or bewildered, maybe both.