I watched Magnolia tonight, which I vaguely remember being in the theaters, but never quite got around to seeing.
As I was watching it I kept thinking that it reminded me of Boogie Nights. The setting (So-Cal), the weird detachment, they resemble each other visibly, and something else.... oh right. The cast. As I watched it I realized I was basically watching the entire Boogie Nights cast in action, only with Tom Cruise instead of Marky Mark. Julianne Moore, John O'Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William Macy, even Luis Guzman.
On the one hand, the fact that I could tell it was by the same director without having known that beforehand I suppose says something about Paul Thomas Anderson as a director. He has a definite and visible style. The downside is that I thought it worked well in Boogie Nights, but not so much here.
The weird mini-stories at the beginning.... okay. Fine. It felt forced, but I was willing to put that aside to see where he was going. And he went for quite a while. I kept trying to figure out how, as promised by those three vignettes at the beginning, all of these disperate stories would tie together at the end. But what a disappointment. Because how were they tied together? Two ways:
# 1: Two and a half hours into the film suddenly all of the main characters are now starring in a remake of that REM video where everyone is stuck in traffic and starts singing along to the song. Only instead of REM it's Aimee Mann. Look, I like Aimee Mann as much as the next girl, and really like the soundtrack to the film, but WTF on the music video break three-quarters of the way through? Somebody was hitting the crack pipe or something. Very arty. Oh please.
# 2: In the final scenes everyone is tied together by their all having witnessed a hail of bullfrogs.
A hail of bullfrogs? I sat through three hours of this for a hail of bullfrogs? Just no. Writer's block? Put the script aside for a while. Get someone else to colloborate. Decide not to shoot it. But a hail of bullfrogs? What kind of silliness is this?
Oh yes, I know it was set up as though all kinds of weird shit can happen- remember the kid who got shot by his mother while trying to commit suicide at the beginning of the movie? You see! The writer has set up that all kinds of weird shit can happen. which apparently lets him off the hook for writing something that makes sense. More importantly, it lets him off the hook for having to write himself out of the hole he put himself into. Look, dude, you are the one who made the grandiose claim that this would be all about the intertwining of these stories. If you can't do it comprehensively you can't just pull magical mumbo jumbo out of your ass to compensate.
Furthermore, the most interesting characters were glossed over. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Earl Partidge's nurse was compelling. Do we ever learn anything about him? He likes peanut butter. And he probably felt very bad about killing the dog. But it was an accident. Linda Partridge? What made her feelings toward Earl change? What is the story with the kid who raps out the answer to who killed the guy in the closet?
were some high points. Hoffman is great as the nurse. William Macy is
painfully compelling as Quiz Kid Donnie Smith. It's just agony to watch
his scenes. John O'Reilly is great as the super earnest cop, and Alfred
Molina is hilarious as Solomon Solomon. But I was disapointed otherwise... in a I-want-those-three-hours-of-my-life-back kind of way.