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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Tom Cruise stars in Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Magnolia.' Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema.

By Graig Uhlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
January 14, 2000
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Ever since Mark Wahlberg's well-endowed prosthesis in 'Boogie Nights,' director Paul Thomas Anderson has shown a fondness for things of great length.

With a run-time of three hours, his latest writing and directing effort, 'Magnolia,' is no exception. Regardless of the film's length, 'Magnolia,' is an ambitious project from a talented filmmaker. It manages to explore, among others, themes of chance, love, regret, false appearances and the influence of the past through troubled characters of a large ensemble cast.

Although the film is centered on the relationship between info-mercial personality Frank Mackey (played phenomenally by Tom Cruise) and his dying father Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), the rest of the material is equally captivating.

Through nine separate story lines, 'Magnolia' features a talented cast that Anderson has managed to imbue with fully realized, personal tragedies. Anderson's characters - flawed, interesting and genuinely human creations - defy reduction into stereotypes.

Whether struggling with drug addiction, morality, celebrity or personal relationships, Anderson condescends to none of his characters. He seems just as fascinated with the tribulations of existence as its triumphs, and with his typical flair for excess, 'Magnolia' delights in all the quirky idiosyncrasies of life.

In an attempt to balance the film without losing dramatic force and coherence, these nine story lines prove to be a daunting task. Nevertheless, Anderson manages the intertwining narrative remarkably well.

In the opening sequence of the film, he establishes a conceit around which the rest of the film revolves. Through stories of chance encounters and weird coincidences, Anderson marvels at the implausibility of life - the way ordinary events are connected to each other in extraordinary ways. He displays quite dramatically how all the contrivances of movies and forwarded e-mails are an accurate depiction of life.

Anderson takes this idea and runs with it. Characters who never meet on screen are still bound by their personal demons and their positions in life. 'Magnolia' takes pride in its soap-operatic melodrama of a narrative, wrought with the artifices that normally cause film critics to shriek.

The audience should not suspend their disbelief during this film, because disbelief is Anderson's subject. This is a film where a rainstorm of frogs is taken at its face value, unbelievable and impossible, but true.

'This is happening,' one character comments. With that, Anderson is saying that the impossibility of life's coincidences are real events rather than constructions of fictional narratives - that they happen all the time and are not so wondrous as some assume.

The soundtrack is almost exclusively composed of Aimee Mann, which results in more tedious uniformity than the moving audio backdrop that Anderson intended. One gets the impression that Anderson likes these songs much more than the general public. Music producer Jon Brion's score, however, makes for a synergetic match with Anderson's lively visual style.

Anderson takes daring risks in this narrative, in both sound and content, where such innovations usually make for tepid public and critical reaction. 'Magnolia,' however, is more than just film school curriculum material. It is a lay-it-all-out-on-the-table exploration of human tragedy and human experience, where history, chance and vice are just as basic elements of the human condition as the search for love and happiness and the need to feel wanted.

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