Magnolia (P.T. Anderson, 1999)
An epic mosaic of several interrelated characters in search of happiness, forgiveness, and meaning in the San Fernando Valley.
The ensemble cast of P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia include a lot of his previous films stars and even more bigger names Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Cruise, William H. Macy, Jason Robards, John C. Reilly, Alfred Molina, and Luis Guzman. This tortuous story reminds of the great films especially Nashville of the late Robert Altman. One of Anderson’s masters, in fact he was assistant-director on the set of Altman’s latest films because of insurances obligations. The Martin Scorsese influence has been highly palpable with Anderson’s near-masterpiece Boogie Nights. This film mixed the Scorsese rise and fall characters of Raging Bull, GoodFellas, and Casino. Technically the ever moving camera of Cinematographer Robert Elswit represents a great achievement.
This mosaic of characters can’t easily be resumed by ten or twelve lines of a simple summary but the touching stories of pathetic characters and broken hearts simply fits together with this well elaborated juxtaposition of pictures. Often maligned because of its back story of religious references with the famous raining frogs sequence, the pedestrian might be shocked but at least just like the late Stanley Kubrick, P.T. Anderson doesn’t need to spell everything to its viewer. Some find it pretentious to let the audience make his own idea of the meaning of a film but it is more than welcome when a director takes for granted that his viewers aren’t empty vases to fill up with loads of crap.
It brings me to elaborate on the fact that the complexity of Magnolia and its solid story while being a great follow up to Boogie Nights and Hard Eight later being followed by Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood puts P.T. Anderson in the ranks of the auteurs. Just like his predecessors Jean Renoir, Max Ophüls, Martin Scorsese, and François Truffaut all having a great influence on the cineaste, the storytelling line of Anderson is palpable. His signature and recurring themes of religion, greed, alienated suburban people, and the unattainable happiness of its characters. His mise en scène is also very important and while being subtle at moments it can be bold and very narrative. His knowledge of the History of Cinema is encyclopaedic and the knowledgeable cinephile can be really delighted when watching his films.
Another interesting aspect of Magnolia is the presence of many actors who were present in his previous film as well as the cast like cinematographer Elswit. The established cast and crew is a good fact that people are confident about Anderson’s capability as a filmmaker and a storyteller.
Magnolia being one of the most complex stories Anderson has put on screen and might be one of the most successful ensemble film ever made. It is a delight and a superbly acted film that elevates the American Cinema that kind of suffers from being less and less engaging in the last years. I highly recommend this film.