Radheyan Simonpillai - AskMen.com
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January 23, 2010
A decade after its release, P.T. Anderson's emotionally epic Magnolia gets the glorious Blu-ray treatment it deserves. This Altman-esque mosaic follows several disparate L.A. citizens on one rainy day, as they navigate through mistakes and torrential emotions while trying to forge new relationships.
Among them is a boy genius (Jeremy Blackman) with a neglectful father (Michael Bowen); a game show host (Philip Baker Hall) with a resentful daughter (Melora Walters); a former genius (William H. Macy) and a patrol officer (John C. Reilly) both searching for love; a dying man (Jason Robards) aching to see his lost son (Tom Cruise); a cheating wife (Julianne Moore) hoping to end her misery and; a nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman) trying to bring people together. And it all has a little something to do with frogs… seriously.
Easily one of the best films in recent memory, the severely underrated Magnolia won top prizes at the Berlin Film Festival and the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards but was virtually ignored by the Academy (it scored three nominations without a win among them).
Detractors missed its simple but affecting beauty. Writer/director P.T. Anderson assembles a riveting melodrama, or rather several riveting melodramas that can barely contain their energy and outpouring emotions. The individual vignettes, each brought to vivid life by a veteran cast at their best, are tied together by a theme as basic and yet crucial as forgiveness - a point driven home by Anderson’s use of biblical references (a certain amphibian in particular).
There’s nothing subtle about either Anderson’s ideas or his tendency to pay homage to Altman and Scorsese. And there’s no denying how lively and entertaining the whole experience is.
Magnolia just might be one of the few melodramas - call it a soap opera even - for and about men. Consider if you will all the phallic imagery on display.
Reilly’s cop often feels like he can’t approach women because he’s an embarrassment as a man, so we often see him fumble his baton or, at one moment, lose his pistol. Blackman’s effeminate boy genius can’t stand up to his oppressive father or anyone else for that matter, so he pees his pants, unable to master his domain. Meanwhile, Macy’s rather impotent and broke former boy genius feels that a measure of a man’s worth is, as he says, the money in his pocket - the bulge could be confused for something else.
Then there’s Cruise’s phallocentric Frank T.J. Mackey and his estranged dying father Earl Partridge (Robards). Both men - and you can quote them on this - blame their masculinity for the cruel ways they treat women. Frank especially uses his motivational seminars, where he masquerades as a tough guy and chants “respect the cock,” to keep people at a distance and hide whom he really is.
Magnolia’s mosaic is all about macho illusions and the sins men commit under the guise of masculinity. It paints a poignant portrait of misguided ideas of manliness as a barrier against redemption, forgiveness and honest relationships.
Anderson delivers a brilliant soap opera that questions masculinity while daring men to be emotional.