A handful of people in the San Fernando Valley are having one hell of a day. TV mogul Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is on his deathbed; his trophy wife (Julianne Moore) is popping pills with alarming frequency. Earl's nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is trying desperately to get in touch with Earl's only son, sex guru Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise), who's about to have his carefully constructed past blown by a TV reporter (April Grace). Whiz kid Stanley (Jeremy Blackman) is being goaded by his selfish dad into breaking the record for the game show What Do Kids Know? Meanwhile, Stanley's predecessor, the grown-up quiz kid Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) has lost his job and is nursing a severe case of unrequited love. And the host of What Do Kids Know?, the affable Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), like Earl, is dying of cancer, and his attempt to reconcile with his cokehead daughter (Melora Walters) fails miserably. She, meanwhile, is running hot and cold with a cop (John C. Reilly) who would love to date her, if she can sit still for long enough. And over it all, a foreboding sky threatens to pour something more than just rain.
This third feature from Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) is a maddening, magnificent piece of filmmaking, and it's an ensemble film to rank with the best of Robert Altman--every little piece of the film means something, and it's solidly there for a reason. Deftly juggling a breathtaking ensemble of actors, Anderson crafts a tale of neglectful parents, resentful children, and love-starved souls that's amazing in scope, both thematically and emotionally. Part of the charge of Magnolia is seeing exactly how may characters Anderson can juggle, and can he keep all those balls in air (indeed he can, even if it means throwing frogs into the mix). And it's been far too long since we've seen a filmmaker whose love of making movies is so purely joyful, and this electric energy is reflected in the actors, from Cruise's revelatory performance to Reilly's quietly powerful turn as the moral center of the story. While at three hours it's definitely not suited to everyone's taste, Magnolia is a compelling, heartbreaking, ultimately hopeful mediation on the accidents of chance that make up our lives. Featuring eight wonderful songs by Aimee Mann, including "Save Me." --Mark Englehart
An intriguing and entertaining study in characters going through varying levels of crisis and introspection. This psychological drama leads you in several different directions, weaving and intersecting various subplots and characters, from a brilliant Tom Cruise, as a self-proclaimed pied-piper, to a child forced to go on a TV game show and the pressures he faces from a ruthless father.
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