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IN SHORT: Incomprehensible. Rated [R], 195 minutes
A couple of months ago, Cranky got an email from someone working on the set of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia. He warned me that this flick was a disaster of momentous proportions but the very wording of his message made it sound like he had a bone to pick, so we ignored it. Then a critics group pronounced it one of the best of the year. We, who had seen promise in Hard 8 and had enjoyed Boogie Nights, settled into the comfy seats of a screening room -- this thing is over three hours long. I have to protect my legs -- and waited with anticipation.
Magnolia the movie, which is not about flowers, is like a stomach virus that just won't go away. . . Like heartburn of nova intensity. . . Like Blair Witch Project, only without the scares or production values . . .
Waitasec. Blair Witch Project didn't have any scares or production values. Still, Magnolia, Anderson's follow up to the greatly entertaining Boogie Nights is so mind-numbingly awful that, at more than twice the Witch's length it almost surpasses the disaster that dead director Stanley Kubrick left us. . .
Waitasec. Eyes Wide Shut kept its awful-ness limited to one character's journey into the world of sexual bleh. Magnolia gives us a half dozen characters, meandering in the world of relationships. Tom Cruise (trying to outdo his work with Kubrick) stars as a long haired media wizard teaching lonely geeks how to get laid. The Wizard's teevee producing Father (Jason Robards), who abandoned the kidlet years before, is dying. Father's Young Wife (Julianne Moore), who married for the money, discovers that she really does love the old coot and The Caretaker (Philip Seymour Hoffman) tries to put the family back together again.
There's a whole 'nother fractured relationship story running parallel and linked by only the most tenuous of threads to the story above. In this one, The Boy Genius (Jeremy Blackman) who has financed his family through a successful run on a game show, created by the Father, doesn't want to do it anymore. Boy Genius' Father (Michael Bowen) won't have that. The Game Show Host (Philip Baker Hall) is also dying. The Ex-Boy Genius (William H. Macy), who had been a famous contestant years before and misses his fifteen minutes of fame, watches it all on television at the local bar. Tries to use his ex-fame as a pickup line.
Finally, there's something about a born again Police Officer in Love (John C. Reilly) who falls in love with a coke fiend (Melora Walters).
And then it rains frogs.
We said it in our review of Hard 8, Anderson spreads himself too thin (and that flick only had four characters!). He managed the feat in Boogie Nights but it's back to square one with this effort. Even in the comfy chairs, my legs were throbbing and my brain was close to flatlining. As emotive as Tom Cruise is, he could be banging a drum for all I care, a good performance means nothing when there is nothing else to keep you interested.
The rating below is based on the strict rule of this site that you shouldn't have to know anything when you walk into the theater to understand the movie. Afterwards I'll give you a clue that I found on an unassociated website, that makes it all clear and may help you enjoy this monstrosity.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Magnolia, he would have paid...
The clue is in your Bible. Exodus 8:2: "And if thou shalt refuse to let [them] go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs." Don't think Prince of Egypt, think parent/kidlet relationships. Hope you have a better time than moi.
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