Magnolia (1999)

reviewed by
Michael Elliott

Christian Critic's Movie Parables -

* out of * * * * stars

DIRECTED BY: Paul Thomas Anderson STARRING: Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, Philip Baker Hall, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters WRITTEN BY: Paul Thomas Anderson RATED: R for strong language, drug use, sexuality, and some violence SCRIPTURE REFERENCES: Isaiah 43:25, Hebrews 8:12, Psalms 103:12

Take two old and dying men, a lifetime of regrets, a house full of sins, a thoroughly despicable man, enough lies, insecurities and other character defects to keep a team of psychiatrists gainfully employed, then add a inexplicable meteorological and amphibian-based phenomenon and you will have summed up MAGNOLIA, the newest film from Paul Thomas Anderson (BOOGIE NIGHTS).

The movie tells multiple stories, weaving them together, or overlapping them during the course of its three hour running time. Would that the stories were worth the telling.

Earl Partridge (Jason Robards, A THOUSAND ACRES) is dying of cancer. Bedridden, in much pain, it is obvious that his time is growing short. His much younger wife played by Julianne Moore (AN IDEAL HUSBAND) is surprised to find herself struggling with his impending death. Having married for money, she discovers that she has actually fallen in love with the old guy and regrets having cheated and lied.

Earl regrets having cheated on his first wife and estranging himself from his only son (Tom Cruise, EYES WIDE SHUT), now a misogynist self-help guru who teaches men how to "Seduce and Destroy," His sexual and vulgar perspective on male/female relationships is so over-the-top as to be utterly unbelievable.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall, THE INSIDER) is also dying of cancer. Not as physically incapacitated as Earl, Jimmy is still able to perform his duties as the lovable host of a long-running quiz show which pits adults against children. The current whiz-quiz-kid is Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman in his film debut) who is tired of the pressure of performing and is willing to call it quits. On the other hand, quiz kid Donnie Smith (William Macy, MYSTERY MEN ) would like nothing more than to return to the spotlight when he was a "somebody." His pathetic life is souring as he can no longer capitalize on his brief 15 minutes of fame which Stanley is all too eager to relinquish.

Jimmy has his own family crisis as his drug-addict daughter (Melora Walters, BOOGIE NIGHTS) refuses to have anything to do with him for reasons which are not disclosed to us until the end of the film. Grabbing at one last attempt at happiness she reaches out to a softhearted cop (John C. Reilly, NEVER BEEN KISSED) even as she tries to push herself away from him because she deems herself not worthy of his affection.

This dysfunctional group carries on for what seems to be an interminable two-thirds of the movie. And then it gets worse, literally raining frogs. Yes, frogs. Assuming it to be an intended deus-ex-machina device, it is an ineffective one because it doesn't seem to faze the characters much. Oh, they may step gingerly around the splattered frog corpses littering the streets, but otherwise, the frog shower didn't seem to change their behavior or pattern of living (or dying).

There is simply too much going on in this movie and most of it is distasteful to watch. Mr. Anderson further obscures the film by incorporating a loud and intrusive sound track that often drowned out the dialogue, a character who apparently rapped a significant clue to a plot development which was completely unintelligble, and a heavy handed segment of "historical" occurances containing ironic twists which set up absolutely nothing.

One of the recurring themes is found in a line Donnie quotes: "We may be done with the past, but the past is not done with us." This is an absolute lie. God is in the forgiveness business. In fact, as we humbly ask for forgiveness and repent or change our offending mindset, God's Word says that He not only forgives, He also forgets.

"I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." Isaiah 43:25 [KJV]

The spiritual one who keeps bringing up our unrighteous past is the same one who wants to keep us in a state of condemnation. Don't let him. Next time your spiritual adversary reminds you of your past, take great pleasure in reminding him of his future. He hates that.

Michael Elliott
January 2000

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